I went into The Great Wall, a film about ancient China starring two white actors, with low expectations. However, I was immediately distracted from my political agenda by the beautiful Chinese landscapes and exciting CGI. Right away there was a sense of mystery and tension, and there was no time wasted in introducing what turned out to be my favourite character: the wall.
The wall had me invested in the story from the beginning. Fully formed and mechanically intricate, it was easily the best character when contrasted with the bland and under-developed leads.
At first glance, The Great Wall might seem like a cliched story in which two white men save China from evil monsters. Instead, however, the film centres around the wall: a far more interesting subject.
The setting was amazing. An outsider’s perspective provides the sense of being thrust into this world of imaginative emerging technologies and complex military structures. Throughout the movie, the mechanical abilities featured continue to vary and develop as the battles grow in ferocity. From the beginning you see a battalion composed of women fighting on the front lines, diving off the wall to gracefully fight from ropes in the ‘crane corps’.
An act of selfishness leads monsters to spawn and attack every 60 years, eating everything in sight.
It may sound surreal but, in the world created by director Zhang Yimou – populated by colourful and metallic armour, drum beat signals and an iconic landmark invested in new life – it somehow seems perfectly natural.
Granted, there were some problems with the acting and a surprisingly moralistic conclusion seemed dubious given the film’s overall focus on action over any ethical narratives. European travellers played by Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal delivered lines about how they smelled much more naturally than they delivered lines about the Gods. If, however, you judge the movie on its merit as a fantasy/action film, you have to give credit where credit is due.
Image: Nicolas Genin