The Not-So-Great Wall
Directed by Zhang Yimou
If ever a Hollywood film was created with the Chinese market in mind then The Great Wall is it. Reportedly China’s most expensive production, the film kicks off by establishing some history about the famous barriers’s construction. 1700 years to build and 5500 miles long – that is a serious public works program – before setting out that what follows is just one of the many myths in the folklore of the wall.
William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are two rascals roaming the lands outside the wall, when they are set upon by bandits. Escaping to a cave, they settle in for the night when a creature pounces on them and William strikes a blow with his sword chopping off what looks like a green toy claw from an Easter showbag.
The pair stumble onwards, only to be captured by an immense army who take the men to the court inside The Great Wall where they claim to be traders, but it is clear they are mercenaries on the hunt for the mystical black powder – gunpowder – that offers an enormous military advantage to whoever possesses it.
In every monster movie I’ve ever liked, one things remains certain. If you are relying on CGI technology to create frightening creatures then you HAVE to put some effort into making actual monster parts that seem real.
From the original Star Wars trilogy to Peter Jackson’s LOTR and Hobbit franchises (which are front of mind throughout this film), a bit of puppetry, prosthetics, models and fake fur go a long way to helping the audience believe that the villain in the film actually exists.
Sadly in the case of the Tao Tei, the green reptilian monsters of The Great Wall, a cross somewhere between a Tolkien fantasy beast and an alien from any number of flicks, they only ever look like hastily and unlovingly generated computer graphics.
Tellingly there are no “official” images of the creatures, rather just a handful of pictures posted on internet fansites.
Jaws is a film that will stay with me and keep me perpetually terrified whenever I am in the ocean and that is in spite of the fact I first saw it over thirty years ago, and I know that “Bruce” is a mechanical shark. A huge part of Jaws success in terrifying audiences and creating a lasting impression is that Spielberg deliberately kept the shark out of the picture for much of the film, leaving our imaginations to fill in the rest.
In The Great Wall there is no shortage of appearances from the monsters, but it is as if the design of the creatures were an afterthought to be penciled in later by a massive team of CGI minions.
The less than frightening scary beasts are a shame because there is a lot to like about The Great Wall in its sumptuous costumes, grand scale sets and entertaining performances from our two leads who display a gruff affection for one another as they continue their quest for gunpowder once they have been captured and held within the confines of The Great Wall.
The picture builds to an epic showdown, but it is all lost in a big blur of green movement, as the Tao Tei froth about trying to eat the humans, similar to the writhing zombies in World War Z.
Ultimately all the flashy martial arts in the world, a talented director, a decent cast and stunning art direction can’t save this film from entering Z-Grade territory.
Sadly it seems that “Made in China” might not just be a derogatory term for consumer products but for big screen blockbusters too.
2 Stars. – Not So Great