After watching Matt Damon grow a ponytail and hark back to a hybrid era where he fights monsters alongside the Chinese, you yearn to tell the actor to return to the familiarity of James Bourne and Washington politics. For, as William, a rough Caucasian thief who’s traveled east for six months in search of a magical black powder, he’s clearly not at home near the Great Wall.
Director Zhang Yimou collects three story writers and an additional three for the screenplay to create a messy mishmash of fiction and action. Audaciously unrefreshing writing plonks two tough criminals, William and Tovar behind the Great Wall into a fortressed township where the Chinese have a group called the Nameless Order in full battle mode.
To give credit where it’s due, the battle-readiness of the gated city in the middle of nowhere is spectacularly choreographed and filmed. General Shau is excited that they’re going into the battle they’ve been planning for, for 60 years. Commander Lin leads the women in blue in guts and glory as they battle, you won’t believe it, an unending tsunami of alien monsters called Taoties. Practically invincible and vicious, the Taoties attack the Chinese every 60 years.
William may be a thief, a liar and a killer who has entered the fortress under the guise of a trader but as the white savior, he impresses the inscrutable English-speaking female Commander and General Shau with his bow and arrow and bravery.
Throw in Ballard, another white rogue who strayed into the fortress 25 years ago, who teams up with Tovar to steal the black powder and escape when the battle is raging. And that leaves William as the sole hero who loyally stays until the armies of Taoties have been totally destroyed.
Inevitably, Lin and William have unexpressed admiration and growing affection for each other. But hey ho, Willy boy has to go home.
And with that, you go home too, wondering if this ineptly written misadventure in medieval China was worth your ticket money and time.
For a film that doesn’t have elements to please anyone but perhaps the Chinese, The Great Wall gets a 2 Star rating.