The Great Wall

Posted on February 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive, intense, military and fantasy violence with scary monsters, spears, arrows, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters but some insensitive portrayals
Date Released to Theaters: February 17, 2017
Copyright Universal 2017

I get that you need a big Hollywood star to get big Hollywood money. But in “The Great Wall,” that means that Matt Damon has to save the day in ancient China, and having him share the fight with a tough female military leader (Tian Jing) who is Chinese (and very beautiful) does not reduce the quease factor.

Damon plays William, a mercenary who has fought for and against armies of several European nations, now traveling through China in search of the “black powder” they have heard is a new weapon of massive power to destroy. (Gunpowder, the first explosive, was developed by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century.) All of his group are killed except for his closest friend Tovar (Pedro Pascal) in an encounter with a mysterious beast. William kills it and keeps the claw to help find out what it was. When they are captured by an enormous army, it is the claw that keeps them from being killed. The army, a part of the Nameless Order, is stationed by the Great Wall to fight off those creatures, called Tao-Tie. They are dragon-like predators who are learning and evolving, becoming more powerful and working together to develop what can only be called strategy. The Nameless Order has to stop them before they can no longer be contained and take over China, and, after that, the world.

The six people who wrote the film include top-level screenwriters including Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (“thirtysomething,” “Nashville”), Max Brooks (“World War Z”), and Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) were not able to add any more depth than a videogame, and Matt Damon’s talent and charisma can only take his one-dimensional character so far, but the real star here is director Yimou Zhang, whose gift for visual imagery is always a pleasure to behold. In the grand tradition of Cecil B. DeMille or Busby Berkeley, his eye for epic scale, pageantry, and battle is superb. Blue-armored female soldiers leap off ledges to fight the Tao-Tie via military-grade bungee cords. Two interlopers are suddenly surrounded by a storm of red arrows, shot to keep them at the center of a perfect circle. A soldier accused of having a bow “not to the level of your skill” demonstrates what it — and he — can do with three arrows shot at once, one to adjust the trajectory of a tossed bowl and other two to pin it to a column. The film has no dialog about trust or what it means to risk your life, whether for money or for your community, no bromantic banter, and no discovery of the surprising secret to defeating the animals that comes close to the power of the endless row of faces, resolute, honorable, and determined it to whatever it takes to fight the Tao-Tie.

NOTE: Matt Damon and co-star Andy Lau both played the same character in the American and Chinese versions of the film that in the US was called “The Departed.” The Chinese version was “Infernal Affairs” and both are excellent.

Parents should know that this film includes extended military vs. monsters violence with many characters wounded and killed and disturbing images, arrows, spears, and explosions. While it features strong, brave female soldiers and officers and tries to balance the skill and courage of the Chinese and western characters, it is still disturbing to see in 2017 a movie where the indigenous people cannot solve the problem until the European arrives. You may wish to read the director’s statement on this issue.

Family discussion: Were William and Lin Mae alike? How did they earn each other’s trust?

If you like this, try: “House of the Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower”

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