The Great Wall review: The most beautiful rubbish you could ever hope to see
Chinese master Zhang Yimou’s monster flick, featuring Matt Damon battling killer lizards, is stunningly silly and surprisingly enjoyable
Rank outsider: Damon joins the Chinese warriors in The Great Wall.
Film Title: The Great Wall
Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng
Running Time: 105 min
We’re going to build a wall. And we’re going to make the giant killer lizards from beneath the earth pay for it. Such is nearly the premise of this chaotic, strangely paced romp from the hitherto respectable Zhang Yimou. “What were they trying to keep out?” the poster ponders.
Historians tells us that the Chinese built the Great Wall of China to repel Eurasian nomads. This undeniably entertaining film reveals a more colourful and preposterous solution. Beware! The hugely fanged, grey creatures fear only magnets and Matt Damon.
Before release, much of the industry chatter around The Great Wall involved reasonable complaints about the imposition of a white saviour on an Asian historical drama. Once you are thrust into the unlikely action, it’s hard to take any such sober arguments seriously.
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The Great Wall calls to mind those 1970s international co-productions in which people off the telly battled stop-motion dinosaurs to ersatz Morricone. It looks nicer than that suggests, of course. The director of House of Flying Daggers brings characteristic flair to his depictions of warriors resisting attack on the Wall. The archers wear splendid red armour. The female warriors who descend from cables are dressed in Prussian blue. This is among the most beautiful rubbish you could ever hope to see.
Damon plays a (possibly Irish) rogue travelling through Asia with his mate (Pedro Pascal) in search of gunpowder. After killing one of the mysterious beasts, they encounter Chinese forces and are drafted into the fight. Western cultural imperialism is kept to a minimum as Matt sighs before the home team’s martial genius. The dialogue is terrible, but it occupies less screen time than the deliciously silly man-on-ogre combat.
It’s not a very good film, but it’s more enjoyable than most films that are just a little better than it. If that makes sense.