This week it was either the 146 minute long A Cure For Wellness or the much shorter The Great Wall. Naturally I gravitated towards the film that had Matt Damon and monsters, which sounds like a very appealing combination to me. Apparently (according to Wikipedia) this was released in China a few months back and then finally released here. From what I gather it wasn’t all that critically acclaimed, here or in China (at the time I saw it, Rotten Tomatoes gave it 40%) but did it really deserve that rating?
I would have recognized the Chinese sensibility of this film even if I hadn’t read the Wikipedia page. The appeal was very different than what we’re used to in West. We are shown the great organization and military precision of the Wall soldiers, divisions of specialists with unique defensive functions and strange tactical logistics. There was no clear romantic subplot. Also there were subtitles. I can see why this didn’t review well but I found it refreshing. There was a distinct lack of tired Hollywood cliches and the plot often went in unexpected directions.
The actual Wall itself was awesome. Not only was it a barrier against the monsters, it was also a city in its own right, where people lived and trained their entire lives. They manufactured great weapons of war and presumably spent impressive amounts of time innovating new ways of making the wall more lethal. As attacks against the wall went on, new and terrible ways of killing things were revealed and that was very cool. Why they held back and didn’t use them all at once made me wonder but I’m sure they had a good reason.
As a film, The Great Wall was wonderful to look at. Just the wall itself was visually impressive. I liked the use of color. I could see the influence of Max Brooks, who also wrote World War Z, though it was subtle. Instead of mindless zombies piling up to get over a giant wall, it was mindless monster dogs piling up to get over a wall. Sure there was the odd CGI shot that didn’t really read that well, but most of it was live action and well shot. I also add that Matt Damon is very handsome and you get to see him shirtless at one point. Full marks for the visuals on this film.
The writing was a bit strange; not only in the aforementioned sensibilities but also the pacing and dialogue. It took its time getting started and spent many opening scenes focused heavily on how organised the soldiers of the Wall were. The Great Wall did not pass the Bechdel test. Sure there were plenty of women, only one of whom had a name and talked and pretty much the rest of the gals were eaten by monsters. That’s probably negative Bechdel marks right there. And I have to wonder about the ‘whitewashing’ issue – I can totally understand having Matt Damon but he was substantially better at absolutely everything than anyone else. That probably annoyed someone somewhere.
So was The Great Wall worth watching? Yes, I’d say so, for Matt Damon if for no other reason. It was fun to watch and definitely a nice break from all the old tropes we’re used to. I really do like the idea of a legendary history of the Great Wall and seeing that was a lot of fun. It was original in the way so many films released are not.