AT ITS CORE “THE GREAT WALL” CRUMBLES; “TAKEN” ON TV
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
THE GREAT WALL (Rated PG-13) The Great Wall of China was built to protect the populace and territory from invasion. Little did we know until the advent of the new Matt Damon film “The Great Wall” that the invading hordes were hideous monsters previously seen only roaming freely in fantasy movies. As “The Great Wall” opens, Damon’s William Garin, a 12th century mercenary and trader, leads a group of battle-scarred warriors into the badlands of ancient Northern China in search of wealth and power.
One member of the group has knowledge that a powerful weapon, known as “black powder,” is in the possession of the Chinese, and its value would be tremendous if taken back to continental Europe. Barely surviving a hair-raising scrape with desert tribes, William and his sidekick Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) recover a strange, magnetic stone and reach the Great Wall, where they have to surrender to an army of warriors known as the Nameless Order. Imprisoned in the bustling military outpost of Fortress City, the two mercenary warriors meet another Westerner, Ballard (Willem Dafoe), who has the haggard look of someone plotting an improbable escape for several decades. For their part, William and Pero attract the notice of General Shao (Hanyu Zhang) and Commander Lin (Jing Tian) because they had retrieved the severed claw of one of the beasts that are assumed to be nearly invincible.
These ugly creatures that look like leftovers from a cheesy science-fiction B-movie are called the Tao Tei, a breed of ancient, mystical beasts that rises every 60 years for eight days to feast upon humanity. That day of reckoning has arrived, and though the Chinese are well-prepared, Commander Lin, a fierce female warrior, realizes that William’s archery skills would come in handy and thus he is enlisted to the cause of defending the fortress wall the Tao Tei ferociously seek to breach. For a joint United States and China production that obviously cost a boatload of cash, “The Great Wall” is a mostly lackluster exercise in repetitive action with the beasts launching repeated attacks on the Great Wall, with the valiant Chinese soldiers fighting back. The most dazzling of the action scenes involve female warriors that perform impressive aerial attacks on the monsters. Aside from these heroics, the battle scenes lack ongoing ingenuity because the recurring assaults soon become too monotonous. Matt Damon has obviously done well with the Jason Bourne franchise, but his adeptness at physical action just doesn’t translate well to an ancient Chinese setting. “The Great Wall” is an overall disappointment on several fronts.