The Great WTF
It feels weird, following our last week 2016 wrap up, that our first 2017 movie has such a solid chance to also be this year’s worst. The Great Wall is truly dumbfounding, and the only thing it shares with its titular wonder of the world is a monumental scale – of stupidity and ugliness. Some movies truly are beyond any word or philosophy: they just happen for undecipherable reasons, like an earthquake, the killing spree of a mass murderer or a flood. Call it an act of God if you must, something He would send His followers to test their faith. Yes, it’s that bad. And oh, it’s actually worse.
Matt Damon plays (if what he does here still qualifies as such) a mercenary on the quest for black powder. His crew has no map, no medicine, no food. They do not have a script, either, so they basically walk forth until they bump on the Great Wall. That’s when you remember that Yang Zimou directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony before this, for Chinese troops are colour-coordinated and all too eager to give a Cirque du Soleil performance under Power Rangers management. But first, Matt Damon has to clean up and shave, otherwise he wouldn’t look like a good actor with questionable choices.
As soon as he makes a grand entrance in the banquet hall, everyone raises and applaudes his fresh looks, as was the custom in ancient China. The head warrior, who also is the general’s daughter, looks suspiciously like good CGI and she tells him “Meet me on the Wall”, which considering the length of said wall sounds a bit like “Meet me in Chile”. There, the High Concept is exposed: Mars has been attacking China for the last 20 centuries, and the purpose of the Wall is to contain the green herds, looking suspiciously like bad CGI. What’s implied is that only Matt Damon will be able to successfully stops the invasion, first because he’s white, but also because he knows that killing the alien queen will result in her spawn dying in a second. Does that sound familiar to you? I don”t know what you’re talking about. Did one mention it happens in CHINA?
Chinese people, if they were stupid enough not to implement the very basic plan Matt Damon comes up with, have not remained idle during these twenty centuries. On top of black powder they have invented trust-building exercices, moderately successful hot air balloons and rotor blades, even though most of their creativity seems to have been spent on military fashion. At some point the Emperor even discovers the fridge magnet: both hilarity and mayhem ensue.
Add to this William Dafoe, convinced he stars in a Beijing Circus version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a sadly underused Andy Lau, any available cliché including the slow clapping traitor and the bravoury suicide, and if you are not bored stiff you will be rewarded at the end by a couple of scenes, one in the Forbidden City sewers, one in a tower entirely made of typical ancient Chinese rainbow stained glass. Already in Yang Zimou’s The Forbidden City, interior decoration was bordering on garish; here, we enter Las Vegas LSD Disco Inferno territory. Once again, to say that it’s stupid and ugly would be missing the point: The Great Wall is far, far beyond both. Have your optometrist at hand if you dare watching that thing. Just saying.