Human history is always a fertile ground for fables and folklore. In the earliest days of storytelling, when something simply defied description, the scribes of the day would create a mythology about any creature, phenomena or occurrence they couldn’t understand. This is the birthplace of legends, and they have been the origin of most of what made up a vast majority of what we now know as popular fiction. However, there are times where the lines between what is known and what is not can get blurred, leading to an attempt where fantasy attempts to blend with reality. In cases like the Ancient Wonders of the World, answers have always been sought as to not only how they exist, but why? What purpose do they serve other than for future generations to stare at in amazement and collectively ask “How did they do that?” The medium of film has been used to attempt to not necessarily explain the why’s and how’s, but pose the hypothetical what-ifs as well, and this is the task the filmmakers have given themselves in “The Great Wall.”
Matt Damon stars as William, a European mercenary whom, along with his closest friend Tovar (Pedro Pascal) and a small group companions, are seeking the mystical power of a mysterious black powder that can “turn air into fire.” Along the way, the majority of his party are killed by other bandits and brigands on the way through Asia, and after seeking solace in a secluded cave, two more of his men are killed by a vicious beast, leaving William and Tavor as the sole survivors but not before William manages to kill the beast, leaving its severed clawed hand behind in the process. After resuming their search, they are set upon again and chased straight into the Great Wall of China and its army of soldiers, known as the Nameless Order led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian). They are immediately taken captive and questioned, and the two soon realize that the creature they encountered the night before is just one of a horde of thousands pouring from an unknown source as the sixty-year cycle of the attacks looms, seemingly bent on consuming all other life on Earth. William reluctantly joins the fight while Tovar, along with Ballard (Willem Defoe), another European seeker of black powder held captive at the Wall, seek to exploit the Nameless Order’s stockpile of powder and weapons and flee while they can.
This film was a complete mess from start to finish. The characters are so paper thin and one-dimensional that just made painful to watch for me. Plot devices are constantly introduced and either inadequately explained or quickly dismissed and forgotten, and the CGI is so overused and over the top that it constantly pulled me out of the story (what little bit of it is actually there). I will never understand the logic of casting Matt Damon in this film playing a European, invoking memories of Kevin Costner’s on again off again British accent in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. It’s simple minded filmmaking that looks like it cost a fortune to create, but just fails to engage the audience the way it so desperately needs to. All involved are capable of so much better.