By Jack Dignan
While attending The Great Wall, I wore a Howard the Duck t-shirt, the film logo spread proudly across my chest. For anyone who has seen it, Howard the Duck is not a good movie. In fact, it’s pretty freaking terrible. And I love it. Everything about it is painfully cringe-worthy and laughably bad, yet I own it on Blu-Ray. It’s a guilty pleasure. I have also been to watch Tommy Wiseau’s The Room twice in cinemas, notoriously the worst film ever made. What I’m trying to say here is that I can appreciate bad movies. If it’s so terrible to the point of enjoyment, I am all for that. Those movies are the reason for my existence. Sharknado is the best thing to happen to cinema. Life is strange. So is The Great Wall, a film so unthinkably bad that I couldn’t help but love almost every second of it.
The tale told in The Great Wall is, as the film’s opening title explains, a legend spread throughout China. The Great Wall of China was built for a reason, but what exactly was it? So the story goes, it was built to keep out a horde of alien monsters who crash landed on the planet thousands of years ago, waiting every 60 years to strike and take over China. Sold? Don’t worry, you will be. It only gets better from here, as the big blockbuster adaptation of this story follows a European mercenary named William (Matt Damon), and his conveniently-appearing-at-all-the-right-moments partner, Tovar (Pedro Pascal). Together, they serve as China’s greatest warriors (although, that title more so refers to just William), aiding Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) in defending off the monsters.
Where else are you going to find Matt Damon flying through the air in slow motion, grabbing onto a weapon a fellow solider has thrown, and shoving it right into the face of an ugly as fuck alien creature thing? Nowhere, that’s for sure. The Great Wall is an utterly ridiculous b-movie that’s been given the budget of a summer blockbuster, and it uses it wisely. Of course, by wisely I really mean they spent every cent they had on getting Matt Damon to play the main character, but, like, did you see the part where he flies through the air? Or fights off creatures from a homemade hot air balloon? In my eyes, that’s money well spent.
This is not a film that asks you, nor needs you to take it seriously, the opening titles forewarning you of its ridiculous nature. The Great Wall knows exactly what it is, embracing its terribleness and resulting in a kaleidoscope of epic scenarios. Plot is thin, instead replaced with a handful of incoherently paced action sequences that either take their time in being set up or appear out of absolutely nowhere. If you’ve ever seen any of director Yimou Zhang’s films, his distinct style is hard to miss. For all of those who haven’t seen Hero, I would definitely recommend it. It is, like The Great Wall, completely ridiculous, but at the same time, and contrary to The Great Wall, a legitimately good movie, too.
Zhang’s visual style is carried over here, albeit much more restraint than in some of his other works. Slow motion comes and goes, every time putting a smile on my face due to its sheer goofy nature, but it’s the scope of things that really stands out. With a plot as nonsensical as this one, and characters that aren’t even good enough to be considered one-dimensional let alone three, decent visuals are needed in order to carry this movie through the mud. And Zhang delivers. Physics? Forget it. You won’t find any here. Characters fly all over the place, doing whatever they please, seemingly without even trying. There’s a moment where Matt Damon climbs onto a harpoon chain and slides all the way down on his stomach, leaping up into a foggy battle with an army of creatures, taking them out single handedly. I honestly wanted to cry, it was that good.
Seriously though, nothing in this film makes any remote sense. Why do the creatures only attack once every sixty years? I don’t know. How come they attacked three times in this movie though? I also don’t know. What is it they want on the other side of the wall? All of these are questions we do not know the answer to. But do we want to know? The lunacy of the situations gives this film that little extra something, making it even more enjoyable in a so bad it’s good way. This is a terrible movie, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s so bloody good because of it. The CGI is atrocious, the plot makes no sense, and Matt Damon always kept changing his mind about whether he wanted to give his character an accent or not. How can you not love this movie?
Giving this film a rating out of five feels wrong. This isn’t the type of movie that deserves a star rating. It’s going to get what it gets, but know this, The Great Wall is atrocious. Blockbusters shouldn’t be this bad, but if you’re able to embrace its campiness and terrible dialogue, as well as the unnecessary appearance of Willem Dafoe, then I think you’ll find that The Great Wall can be pretty damn great.
2 1/2 Stars
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