History books tell us that the Great Wall of China was built to protect the public against the invading Mongol hordes. The alternative facts presented in “The Great Wall” tell us the structure was built to keep out monsters from the pits of hell (or rather a green meteorite).
At least that’s the plot of this visually interesting but otherwise flat and predictable movie.
William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are a pair of mercenaries who have come to China to bring back the explosive, mysterious “black powder.” Neither of them have seen the stuff, because no one who has gone in search of it has come back alive.
One night the group is attacked by a monster and all die except Will and Pero. William kills the beast and keeps one of its arms as a souvenir. The next day they’re being chased through the hills by some horde or other when they run smack dab into the Great Wall. William decides to take his chances with the people behind the wall and surrenders to them.
On the other side of the wall are a large contingent of soldiers of various skills. They are shocked when they find the monstrous arm among William’s possessions and even more surprised when he claims to have killed the monster to whom it was formerly attached. In no time everyone is called to battle stations as a screeching, endless swarm of monsters begins an assault on the wall.
Although prisoners, William and Pero join the battle, killing several monsters and saving lives. This endears them to the soldiers, especially Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian), the only officer in the group that speaks English.
She learned the language from Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a fellow European who came China 25 years ago in search of the black powder and has been a prisoner ever since. Ballard would love to help the duo escape — and with plenty of black powder — but William isn’t ready to leave just yet.
“The Great Wall” is directed by Zhang Yimou (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”) so you can expect some lovely and exciting visuals. In that regard the film doesn’t disappoint. The highlight comes in the initial siege on the wall, as the Chinese soldiers pull out all the stops to fight the monsters — including bungee-jumping women fighters with long spears.
But alas, you can’t get by on just good special effects anymore — if ever. The story between the action sequences is as lifeless and pedestrian as movies get.
It’s a great wall alright. Just not a very great movie.