William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are travelling mercenaries who are looking for some powerful new magic called 'black powder' that's rumored to exist somewhere in China. This 'black powder' will soon be known to the world as gunpowder. After suffering heavy casualties during their long trip, they manage to kill a strange creature in a cave and are then saved by a mysterious army that are known as the "Nameless Order". William discovers that the Nameless Order goes to great lengths to prepare and to defend the great wall of China every sixty years from an attack. The legends say that the heavens sent down a giant green meteor that spawned these creatures that are known as "Tao Tei". They're supposed to be some sort of divine punishment for the greed of one Chinese Emperor from over 20,000 years ago. Seems like a bit much to me, but okay. Now that he's aware of a battle that he didn't know existed, William will now have to choose between his growing sense of duty, and his stubborn sense of selfishness that has kept him alive all these years.
If that sounds trite, it's because, it is. Every characters motivation, interaction, and ultimate resolution, in one way or another, is telegraphed to such a boring degree that it rarely manages to be anything more than moderately entertaining, exceedingly briefly. Lin Mai (Jing Tian) is a commander who's eager to put her sword to William's throat and reluctant to withdraw it, just so you know she's tough and means business. And what started out as a hostile relationship develops into a predictably playful one. Though thankfully not a romantic one, at least not yet. William's friend Pero is only there for banter and to recite such flat lines like "I'm only saving you so I can kill you myself later!". The "weak" character who becomes the one who will make one of the biggest differences in the battle. All the other commanders have no depth to them at all. I would have liked to have seen a ferocity from these group of fearless leaders, like The Five Tiger Generals from the kingdom of Shu. But sadly, they're throwaway characters. Name your cliche, it's all in here. I did appreciate the attention to the visuals, costumes and colors, but that really come at the expense of everything else. The cgi monsters were fine, I guess. Nothing we haven't seen before, but adequate enough. The fiery ballista provided a couple of cool sequences.
I probably wouldn't have minded so much if they managed to mount any sense of tension or doom. The Tao Tei spread exactly like the zombies did in World War Z, ie, ant-like swarms. The trailers promised these lavish and grand battles, and yet, they were tedious and surprisingly anti-climactic. This 'Nameless Order' had sixty years to prepare for the Tao Tei and the best they can muster is some flashy and largely ineffectual offensive moves that seem like they only existed so they could show off their admittedly sweet color schemes. So many scenarios defied belief and pulled me out of the movie so bad that I couldn't take it seriously. The Tao Tei have possibly set a trap on a part of the great wall, what do you do? Send out your two highest ranking commanders to investigate of course. I'm sure that won't cause any problems. The Nameless Order know exactly where the Tao Tei will be attacking from, it's a funnel, don't you think an avalanche or a molten lava attack of some sort would be prudent instead of bungee jumping women off the edges of the wall to hopefully spear one when there's literally thousands of them.
When it comes to William in The Great Wall, he's basically an extremely watered down retelling of the Nathan Algren character in The Last Samurai. William finds his honor and his redemption as a warrior with the 'Nameless Order', but it lacks any of the emotion that The Last Samurai had in spades. I was thinking that The Great Wall might have been better if they just had one epic battle at the end instead of numerous ones. Show the Nameless Order implementing various ingenuous strategies and overcoming the Tao Tei by using innovative military maneuvers in an epic battle where all the commanders have a chance to shine. It could have been spectacular! But we have to rush into the action sporadically, otherwise the kids will get bored. And I can't believe that they actually pulled The Phantom Menace ending. At least the ending made sense in Phantom Menace because they were a robot army. What I find more unforgivable is when The Avengers used it, because they were organic creatures, ie, not robots, and this was repeated in The Great Wall, to my disbelief. I really wanted to like The Great Wall too, because I do believe that Hollywood and foreign studios have a lot to gain by working together and combining resources, but this movie will be detrimental to that ever happening anytime soon.
Written by - The Sentry - 19/05/2017