(director: Yimou Zhang; screenwriters: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy/ based on the story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz; cinematographers: Stuart Dryburgh, Zhao Xiaoding; editors: Mary Jo Markey, Craig Wood; music: Ramin Djawadi; cast: Matt Damon (William Garin), Jing Tian (Commander Lin Mae), Pedro Pascal (Tovar), Willem Dafoe (Ballard), Andy Lau (Strategist Wang), Zhang Hanyu (General Shao), Eddie Peng (Commander Wu), Lu Han (Peng Yong),  Junkai Wang (Emperor), Zheng Kai (Shen), Cheney Chen (Imperial Officer), Xuan Huang (Commander Deng), Yu Xintian (Lieutenant Xiao Yu); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Thomas Tull, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni, Peter Loehr; Universal Pictures; 2015China/USA-in English amd Mandarin, with English subtitles)

“Mainly a special effects film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Internationally recognized Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang(“Hero”/” House of Flying Daggers”), whose work has been in steady decline ever since he’s again in the good graces of the Red government, in his first English film, efficiently, if nothing else, directs this Hollywood-like blockbuster 3-D computerized film. It’s mainly a special effects film. Viewers should be attracted by its splendid visuals, as it serves up a weird type of period, fantasy, sci-fi and adventure film. It uses China’s Great Wall as a prop but never gets us to think too much about it as an historical wonder of the world. China’s most expensive production ($157 million) goes cross-cultural to be filmed as if a Cecil B.DeMille Hollywood monster epic.

It’s based on the senseless story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz. The dull formulaic monster screenplay is by Hollywood writers Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy. The inane plot and shrill dialogue are half baked and fail to lift the fictional legend tale into transcendence. It’s set in North China, during the Song Dynasty, as it shows how mighty China was during that period and tells us with a straight face the Wall was built to keep out the reptile monsters.

In the 12th century two mercenary warriors, the European William (Matt Damon) and the Spaniard Tovar (Pedro Pascal), are imprisoned within the Great Wall of China after captured by the guards, as they are thwarted in dealing for black gunpowder in which they hope to make a fortune if they can bring it to Europe. When the digital reptile monsters, called Tao Tie, invade the Wall, the white mercenaries bravely fend them off with bow and arrow and become heroes. They commit to be under the command of the English-speaking female military commander, Lin Mae (Jing Tian), leader of the Nameless Order. Also around is a strategy adviser, Wang (Andy Lau, Hong Kong star), a young soldier (Cheney Chen) trying to deal with his fears, and an assortment of other military figures. The mercenaries hook up with the greedy Ballard (Willem Dafoe), an Englishman imprisoned when he came to the Great Wall 25 years ago searching for the gunpowder. Ballard tempts Tovar to split with him and to take the gunpowder, while William stays and offers his fighting skills to defeat the invading monsters as they tunnel their way past the Wall and into China. For some unexplained reason the evolving beasts attack only every 60 years.

The absurd film is too unexciting to overcome all the repetitious battle scenes that were staged as if video games. The effects of the spectacle begin to wane after one too many shots of the blue-clad Crane Corp as they go bungee-jumping off the Wall with spears.

The Great Wall

REVIEWED ON 2/18/2017       GRADE: C+