Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Great Wall


Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Fantasy Action Violence

I've been playing some of my favorite video games again lately, such as the "Uncharted" games.  This is my fourth time going through the whole story again, but I return to them fondly because I enjoy the characters and the storytelling.  I wonder why movies can't do the same thing.  They used to, but now they're just soul-sucking, noisy cash grabs.  For a while I thought that it was just them trying to appeal to foreign audiences or the filmgoer that doesn't want to use their brain, or to sell a spectacle.  Now, I realize that it's simply contempt for the audience.  They're lazy and think that the audience is so hard up for entertainment value that they'll watch anything.  Or maybe they're still bearing a grudge after that writers strike a few years ago.  I don't know, but I do know that unless Hollywood gets its priorities straight, movies are going to go the way of the dodo.

"The Great Wall" is the most brain-dead action movie I've seen in ages.  With a mammoth budget of $150 million and the desire to make a movie based on an original idea, you think they could have invested some of that effort into a screenplay.  It doesn't have a single original or interesting idea during the whole 113 minutes.  Okay, maybe one or two, but those are just moments.  This is especially disheartening considering the pedigree that it has.  Among the six people listed for writing the screenplay (never a good sign) are Tony Gilroy (whose credits include "The Cutting Edge" and the "Bourne" movies) and Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (who co-wrote "The Last Samurai").  Also listed is Max Brooks, who wrote "World War Z" (the book, not the movie)  How could such creative people come up with something this insipid?  Simple.  They're broadening everything for a global audience.  But they've broadened it to the point where it's impossible to imagine anyone giving a damn about anyone in the movie.  The story is trite and the dialogue is frequently embarrassing.  It's not as bad as the "Twilight" movies, but it's close.

William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal) are going to China to steal some black powder, which is rumored to be an unstoppable weapon.  Along the way, they kill a mysterious monster.  They bring the severed arm to the Chinese army in the hopes they can explain what it is.  Apparently, the Great Wall of China is not for defense against the Mongol army, but for keeping out a group of reptilian monsters.  Now William has to decide whether to be selfish or help.

"The Great Wall" has been greeted with controversy about its "White Savior" narrative.  This is true, but believe me, this is the least of the film's problems.  The plot is so thin that it makes a Looney Tunes cartoon seem like the pinnacle of narrative.  The characters are so shabbily drawn that the term "one-dimensional" gives them far too much credit.  The little boy from "Boy and the World" had more personality than all the characters in this film combined.

Matt Damon is one of the world's most beloved movie stars.  With talent, charm and versatility, he broke into the big time with "Good Will Hunting" and has shown no signs of stopping.  However, not only is he miscast, his character is almost entirely superfluous.  Other than having a magnet (don't ask), William serves no purpose whatsoever.  Damon appears to know that this role is beneath him, since he is most definitely not trying.  This is the worst performance he's ever given.  Veteran werido Willem Dafoe does what he does best, but his talents are wasted.  Pedro Pascal is indistinguishable from the background.  The only one who shows any energy or talent is Chinese starlet Tian Jing.  While not as talented or ethereal as Ziyi Zhang or Gong Li (director Zhang Yimou's most famous muses), she's got the presence of a movie star and the acting chops to back it up.

What is Zhang Yimou doing with this crap?  He's no hack director.  Together with Gong Li, he essentially put Chinese cinema on the map in the early nineties.  So why in the world would he choose this dreck for his first foray into American cinema (well, second, since his first was "The Flowers of War" with Christian Bale, a film I'm sure not even Bale-heads are aware of).  Yimou is a gifted filmmaker with a unique visual style.  But you wouldn't know that here.  This is a surprisingly bland action movie, and while there are some cool moments, they're not numerous.  The studio should have allowed him the leeway to do what he does best.

Trust me.  Don't bother with this one.

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