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Matt Damon climbs the not-so-great 'Wall'

19 February 2017

Director Zhang Yimou has made some of the most ravishingly attractive films to come out of China, including "Raise the Red Lantern", "House of Flying Daggers", and "Hero", movies that are lavishly sensual in their use of color and light.

Actor Pedro Pascal, director Zhang Yimou, and actors Jing Tian and Matt Damon attend the premiere of Universal Pictures" "The Great Wall' at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on February 15, 2017 in Hollywood, California.

The Great Wall is what it is, and although the story is inspired by one of the world's great wonders, the movie never comes close to achieving that same lofty status.

Well, I've seen The Great Wall and I can tell you what it's about. It's a real wall, made of real stone and brick - the production built a 500-foot recreation of a section of the Great Wall of China - the actors are standing on. William decides he needs to help these people because he has a magnet in his bag and magnets make the monsters sleepy, and while they're sleepy, you can blow the monsters up by attaching M80s and bottle rockets to their tails. The westerners, led by Matt Damon with an ridiculous beard and a truly, truly ridiculous accent, are just in time to witness the ancient goal of the Great Wall: keeping out the herd of timorous beasties known as the Tao Tie.

Damon's Chinese costars have come down with the same strain of bland nobility that infects him. Seeing this movie in the 3D format brings out the special effects even more making them come at you repeatedly.

To watch it is to be aware of how little movies this size have to do with art and how much they are product, the result of a calculation involving actorly appeal and spectacle, because spectacle, not story, has the least cultural specificity and the most universal draw. His films have a distinct visual flair that is missing from The Great Wall because of the films pacing. I mean, it has its share of problems and I'm glad I didn't pay to see it, but I wouldn't say I suffered through The Great Wall.

Barrier grief Matt Damon in The Wall
Matt Damon climbs the not-so-great 'Wall'

THE Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese/Hollywood co-production ever, with a budget of over 150 million dollars. Preposterous as it sounds, they're there to combat the velociraptor-type Tao Tei, a heaven-sent scourge who appear like clockwork every 60 years to do their worst.

Directed by acclaimed House of Flying Daggers filmmaker Yimou Zhang, The Great Wall casts Jason Bourne star Matt Damon as a European mercenary whose attempt to locate a source of gunpowder in China during the Song dynasty is sidelined when he gets caught up in a war with savage creatures laying siege to the famous Great Wall.

On the plus side, it's kind of fun in a goofy way, and - unlike some recent blockbusters that skew dark, violent and intense - it's a genuinely all-ages romp. The Nameless Order is divided into color-coded warriors in jewel-toned armor - archers in blazing red and acrobatic women in sapphire blue, bungee jumping from the wall with spears in hand.

Yimou's images are nearly entirely computer generated in "The Great Wall".

Perhaps most surprising of all is the true story behind The Great Wall's green monsters, the Taotie. News. "I was like, 'I am old". One thing leads to another and it's William who saves the day, thanks to a large magnetic rock that puts the monsters to sleep.

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Matt Damon climbs the not-so-great 'Wall'