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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 10:16 am

Flimsy Effects Prevent “Wall” From Greatness

The most expensive film ever made in China, “The Great Wall” is meant to serve as a bridge between American and Asian audiences, a co-production between Universal Pictures and the China Film Group as well as other international corporations. Hollywood knows the secret to success where big budget epics are concerned lie in foreign markets, as these audiences are the ones that usually push these movies into the black.  So, it makes sense to make inroads into these territories by creating product more in tune with these cultures, their mores and their history.

Mercenaries William and Tovar (Matt Damon & Pedro Pascal) are strangers in a strange land in The Great Wall.
Courtesy Universal Pictures

If for nothing else, this misguided epic from director Yimou Zhang (“Hero”) will be remembered as one of the first salvos in the globalization of Hollywood.  Having already grossed a quarter of a billion dollars in foreign markets, “Wall” seems primed to conquer the North American box office, having seemingly overcome early criticism surrounding the casting of a westerner in a key role.  That would be Matt Damon, who plays William, a European mercenary who, along with his reluctant partner Tovar (Pedro Pascal), have come to China searching for gunpowder.  Instead, they stumble upon a military-based society embroiled in a fight against some mysterious creatures attempting to breach the section of the Great Wall of China where they’re holed up. 

While the tab for this feature was $150 million, there are times when you’d be hard pressed to see where it was spent.  To be sure, there are some wondrous shots of the titular fortification and Zhang obviously has no problem spending money on ornate costuming and an expansive cast.  However, there mustn’t have been much cash left for the special effects, as the threat at hand is a horde of dragons the size of Mack Trucks, rendered in such a cheap manner they look as though they were created by the same animator who brought Jerry the Mouse to the big screen to dance with Gene Kelly.  While viewers are quite aware that Damon isn’t sharing the screen with a large scaly creature, the best of these kinds of movies at least put forth the illusion of reality.  That isn’t the case here and the film suffers as a result as the threat is seen as harmless, as Zhang and his crew fail to create any sense of realism.

Warrior William (Matt Damon) finds himself in over his head in The Great Wall.
Courtesy Universal Pictures

Surprisingly, the story plays rather well as Damon and Pascal have an enjoyable antagonistic chemistry, while actress Tian Jing is thoroughly convincing as Commander Lin Mae, a fierce warrior with an eye for William.  The love story between them works though the third act is an utter failure, as the script becomes muddled with too many subplots vying for closure, none of them coming to a convincing end.  In the end, “Wall” reveals itself to be what it is, a product made to serve many masters that will only succeed in satisfying a few of them.   

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