Acclaimed Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou (‘Hero,’ ‘House of Flying Daggers, ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’) takes on his first bona-fide blockbuster in ‘The Great Wall,’ the $150 million action-fantasy epic starring Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal and a bunch of Chinese actors. While it's a certified flop at the US box office critically and commercially, earning a mere $21 million over the President’s Day weekend, it somewhat mitigated its disappointing performance stateside having already pulled in over $260 million worldwide ($171 million in China alone).
Damon plays William Garin, a mercenary who traveled far and wide to the exotic east in search of Black Powder. Along with his compatriot Tovar (Pascal), he survives a raid by Khitan bandits only to be captured by Chinese soldiers garrisoned at the Great Wall after fending off an attack by a mysterious creature at night. With his particular set of skills (especially with the bow), William was impressed into the service of an elite Chinese military order tasked with defending the famous wall against mythical alien monsters called “Tao Tei,” four-legged creatures resembling giant Predator Hounds that terrorize China every 60 years. You heard right, it's a generational occurrence.
Combining the epic mythical fantasy of LOTR and ‘The Hobbit’ with the oriental flair and style of Zhang’s previous “wuxia” movies, TGW is visually stunning without a doubt. The vibrancy of the Chinese warriors of the “Nameless Order” ‘color-coded by specialty (Crane Troop, Bear Troop, Eagle Troop, Deer Troop and Tiger Troop) is a nice touch, and the acrobatic wire-fu action sequences from the all-female Crane troops are poetry-in-motion. However, as ambitious in scope and visually impressive as it may be, TGW is nevertheless saddled with familiar trappings, tired tropes, uninspired storytelling, uneven pacing and lackluster individual performances (even from the accomplished Damon and Dafoe), making it a bloated effort with style to spare but rather lacking in substance.