Zhang Yimou's THE GREAT WALL
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
The Great Wall is a great big comic book of a film. It's gloriously overproduced with brilliant colors, extraordinary landscapes, over-the-top stunts and sets, a militantly organized cast of thousands of humans (and monsters), minimal character development and plot -- but lots and lots and lots of action.
Had I been 12 years old when I first saw this I probably would have been awestruck as I was when I first so Ishirô Honda's fantastical giant-robots-and-flying-saucers epic The Mysterians.
But I enjoyed The Great Wall just the same and recommend it to anyone craving some escapist action with many details and stunts probably unfamiliar to the average Western moviegoer.
At first I thought the film, despite the almost token presence of Matt Damon, was going to be another mind-numbing extravaganza of boringly choreographed set pieces like the 2008 Summer Olympics ceremonies or the director's extravegant-but-plodding Curse of the Golden Flower.
Instead what we see especially on a large screen is colorful, at times grand, and sometimes surprising. Women combatants are active throughout the film. Stunts and derring-do include ridiculous but amazing bungee jumping swordplay. Hordes of monsters almost out-horde the Arachnid hordes in Starship Troopers. Desert and mountain landscapes zap the eyeballs with blazing color. To top it off we get to hear some terrific call-to-action drum-playing (by the Beijing Red Poppy Ladies' Percussion team).
Still, the story is thin. The actors have little to work with. The Westerners' attempts to steal gunpowder are undramatic compared with the battle to save the country using every means available including a massively weaponized Great Wall and mysteriously steerable soldier-bearing hot air balloons. But what the heck -- go for the popcorn.
Review copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. For a completely different -- and heartwarming -- film by this same director, see The Road Home.