It’s time for a new piece of movie controversy in 2017 even though we’re only a couple of months into it. The keyword this time is whitewashing and its a word that will stick around in the next few weeks to haunt Scarlett Johanssen when her adaptation of the popular anime The Ghost In The Shell hits theaters at the end of March. For now, we will focus on The Great Wall, which has Matt Damon standing tall on the poster and a team of six caucasian writers on it, the major reason for this backlash. No mention in any of this anger that the film is the English-language debut of one of the most gifted Chinese filmmakers of all time, Zhang Yimou, whose brilliant career features martial arts epics like Hero and The House Of Flying Daggers and soulful drama Raise The Red Lantern and, his most recent, Coming Home. Apparently, just like A Dog’s Purpose a couple weeks back, we are going to put the issues before the art and judge it before it comes out but not with me. I wanted to give it a chance.
The film follows two “westerners” from Europe, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) in search of black powder and, when we meet them, are fleeing from a roving gang through the desert. In their escape, they come across a giant wall fortified by a massive army. Taken in as prisoners, William and Tovar quickly discover why this wall is in place. Within hours the wall is under siege by a massive horde of monstrous reptilian creatures hell bent on destroying the wall and laying waste to the capital city beyond it. William decides to try and put his violent and fortune seeking past behind him and join this impressive army to become the hero he believes he can be.
Again the question is raised, was this film even worth the controversy leveled at it? No, not even close and the saddest thing about that is that it stains the North American debut of a great Chinese filmmaker who makes his first horrible misstep. The Great Wall only fleetingly feels like a traditional Zhang Yimou film with vibrant colors, stylish action sequences and a couple beautiful long shots of the wall. Everything else feels like he was shackled by the producers to make a film with more North American sensibilities hidden in a definitely eastern story. The Great Wall was watered down so much that it feels like an overly rushed and blandly safe action adventure.
At the heart of the film, the supposed white savior, Matt Damon feels lost in this film like it was a horrible last second decision. His accent is difficult to place in origin as is his ability to hang on it consistently. To flesh out this “worldly warrior” he is trying to create, they try to soften him a bit with some buddy cop style banter with Pedro Pascal’s character that just comes off as very forced in a film that has one of the most limping and wooden scripts in recent memory. Mercifully only having a runtime of just over an hour and a half, The Great Wall feels like a micro managed cacophony of a handful of writers and producers trying to appease a country they know nothing about with some pretty shoddy CGI and 3D effects to dazzle those too dull minded to see through the horrible breakneck pacing with glaring dull patches. 1.5/5