Film Review: The Great Wall

Matt Damon defends the Great Wall of China…let the nonsensical silliness begin!

The wall is the only barrier keeping the world safe — The Great Wall


In Song dynasty era China, a roaming mercenary (Matt Damon) and his companion (Pedro Pascal) are interrupted in their quest for an elusive black powder by an incident that ends with them being imprisoned by the Chinese Military order stationed on the Great Wall. There, they discover that every sixty years, the country is attacked by mythological beasts that the wall has been painstakingly built to repel, and that should the beasts reach a populated area, they could bring about the end of humanity.


As the film industry in China grows to rival that of the U.S, Zhang Yimou’s THE GREAT WALL should be considered a breakout movie, one that proves to be a significant step forward for the future. For what is regarded as THE quintessential tent-pole movie, one designed to signify a momentous surge in momentum for future projects, a great deal rests upon its shoulders. With A-List Hollywood talent brought in to appeal to almost every audience, the film is a major statement of intent. Entering co-production with Legendary Pictures, a company who have enjoyed the international commercial success of movies like Pacific Rim and WARCRAFT, they had hoped to replicate their appeal with The Great Wall…they failed.

I really wanted to enjoy this movie but its failings make that impossible, in fact, I would go as far as to say the movie is utterly silly and is exposed by flaws intermingled within the narrative. Matt Damon, star of intense thrillers like the Jason Bourne franchise and The Martian is cast as a western traveller who, being of Irish descent finds himself thrust into an adventure of epic proportions pitting the warriors of the Great Wall of China against a collective of mythological creature’s intent on destroying mankind. Damon’s character begins the movie as an Irish marauder but within five minutes of the movies opening title, his accent all but disintegrates into the ether and his American lineage comes flowing back to the forefront. In fact, his presence in the film is completely out of place, ill-fitting for an actor of his calibre and he projects the feeling of an actor cashing a pay check.

Matt Damon and Commander Lin enter the city sewer system

A great deal of condemnation was directed toward the film due to it adopting a “white saviour” narrative, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, for the most part Damon is a passenger to the silly story that unravels the further along the movie progresses. Damon is looked upon as a warrior possessing an ability to kill the monsters lurking at their door, an ability that surprises the members of the Chinese contingent who conduct him to the walls defence.

The story explains that a meteorite that had crashed into the Chinese mountains centuries ago was home to race of reptilian creatures that, every sixty years venture out in search of sustenance to sustain their queen. The creatures work as a collective, a hive mind, with all their thoughts, actions and strategies governed by the queen. With the threat of imminent attack looming, we discover that the wall was constructed over a time span of seventeen hundred years…all to repel the infesting monsters and prevent their spread to civilisation, a populace that could feed the queen for all eternity. The devoted members of the wall army are assigned to ensure the structure remains impenetrable and maintain their defences with all manners of tactics and weaponry.

Amidst the battle, which is abundant with a blend of impressive CGI mayhem and high wire stunt work we learn that the wall…the great erection of Chinese architecture and specifically designed to keep the creatures at bay has unequivocally failed at the first attempt. The monsters, in their “profound wisdom” have tunnelled through the solid rock with their claws and launched an ingenious attack on the capital. With the wall failing embarrassingly, it is left to Commander Lin (Jing Tian) and Matt Damon to rush to rescue and prevent the spread of the reptilian threat before it’s too late.


The fact that the wall is overlooked in such a profound manner is perplexing. The movies sole purpose was to highlight the incredible landmark of our ancient world and create an imaginative story to accentuate its magnificence, but with all the out of control nonsense being displayed, the structure is afforded a massive disservice. The creatures themselves are beautifully rendered CGI creations but their designs are not contemporary, especially if you have had the privilege of watching the likes of Avatar or Predators and you come away with the feeling of having seen it all before.

The incredible Great Wall of China

The weaponry and tactics employed by the Chinese guardians is impressive and the defences built into the walls structure are ingeniously implemented but these are small compensations when taken into consideration. For a people who have devoted almost sixty years to the study of the intricacies of their mortal enemy, the Chinese seem almost clueless when the attack comes and are awe-struck by Damon’s unexpected prowess with a bow and arrow.

For me to say The Great Wall is a terrible film would be both untrue and unfair but, the devil is in the details and the flaws of the script cannot be overlooked no matter how many gloriously visual shots are thrust before you. On a more positive note, the score written by Ramin Djawadi is a pulse pounding extravaganza keeping in tradition with his best work on titles like Iron Man, Clash of the Titans and Warcraft and provides a laudable backbone to the film that keeps it moving at pace. But, overall the film is betrayed by its inadequacies which for me, find the film lacking in almost every department aside from visual brilliancy.

If you’re looking for a mindless fantasy film to waste away two hours of your life then The Great Wall is for you but, if it’s an accurate and moving tribute to one of the greatest ancient wonders of our world you’re after…stay home and tune in to the National Geographic channel.

Go see it and judge for yourself.

Until then…I’m off to see John Wick: Chapter 2 again!

Overall Score 4/10

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