Back left
Back right

The Great Wall Movie Review

Reviewed by on Feb 16, 2017
Rating: 3 Star Rating

In The Great Wall, Matt Damon plays a mercenary fighter in ancient China. When legendary beasts attack The Great Wall, will he stay and fight or steal an important weapon and run? Read our movie review!

By: Lynn Barker

In The Great Wall, in 11th century China, mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and buddy Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are determined to steal some gun powder (invented by the Chinese) to sell back in Europe. When they are attacked by bands of thieves and then by a horrible monster in the dark, they realize this isn’t going to be their usual caper.

Tovar and WilliamTovar and William Courtesy of Universal Studios

Gun Powder and an Alien Arm

Mercenaries William and Tovar run away from bandits only to be attacked in the dark by some kind of weird monster. They cut off its arm which definitely doesn’t look human. Still running from the bandits, they stumble upon the huge Great Wall of China manned by a very well-dressed, powerful army called The Nameless Order led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and very pretty and accomplished Commander Lin (Jing Tian). They learn that the army is expecting a big invasion by somebody or some “thing”. When the soldiers see the severed arm, they seem to recognize it and wonder if the invasion will be early.

Beautiful Commander Lin MaeBeautiful Commander Lin MaeCourtesy of Universal Studios

When Monsters Attack

The army is deciding what to do with these two European intruders when a giant horde of weird, scary alien monsters called Taoties swarm the wall and attack. A young, inexperienced soldier named Peng Yong frees them and William saves his life. Both William and Tovar are freaked but successful at fighting the creatures. The General and Lin are impressed. Finally the queen of these Taoties sees temporary defeat and recalls her troops with a strange sound only they can hear.

The colorful, giant army atop the WallThe colorful, giant army atop the WallCourtesy of Universal Studios

The Legend

William and Tovar are told about these creatures, appearing on Earth thousands of years ago in a meteor and attacking the Wall every sixty years. They are greedy and bloodthirsty and they are getting more intelligent and harder to repel with every attack. If they get past the Wall, they will devour all of China then, the world.

The young Emperor (Junkai Wong) receives the scary Taotie monsterThe young Emperor (Junkai Wong) receives the scary Taotie monsterCourtesy of Universal Studios

The Plot and an Ambush

William and Tovar meet Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a European who, like them, had gone to the East after gun powder twenty-five years ago. He was taken prisoner and now teaches the troops English and Latin. The trio decides to steal gun powder from the storerooms and hit the trail while the army is fighting the next battle. During the night, two Taoties reach the top of the Wall and silently kill several watchmen. General Shao and Lin take soldiers to investigate but Shao is mortally wounded and makes Lin the new General before he dies.

Young soldier Peng Yong (Lu Han)Young soldier Peng Yong (Lu Han)Courtesy of Universal Studios

Scrolls and Magnets

A messenger from the capitol arrives with ancient papers indicating that the beasts are pacified and rendered quiet by magnets. William carries a magnetic rock.. maybe this helped him kill the original Taotie on the road. William says let’s capture a Taotie and test this theory on it. But, Ballard and Tovar are ticked because William was supposed to steal the gun powder and escape with them. Tovar ends up helping William and the soldiers capture a Taotie. It is subdued by the magnet stone and taken to the capitol to the young Emperor.

Mercenary William (Matt Damon) sees the monster horde belowMercenary William (Matt Damon) sees the monster horde belowCourtesy of Universal Studios

Under the Wall

Whoops!, the Taotie queen and her horde have tunneled under the Wall and are now headed to the capitol! Will William stay and fight with the Nameless Order to save China and the world or will he join Ballard and Tovar in stealing gun powder and getting away? Will the magnet stone work on the Taotie? Can the heroes destroy the queen thus rendering her horde of soldier monsters useless? Who will die along the way? What amazing devices and weapons will the good guys use?

Lin teaches William (Matt Damon) to make a daring leapLin teaches William (Matt Damon) to make a daring leapCourtesy of Universal Studios

Wrapping Up

The Great Wall is a mind-blowingly beautiful film to watch. The massive cast, the gorgeous costumes, the well-choreographed battles, attention to detail, cool-looking CGI monsters and massive, practical and CGI sets are well worth the trip to the Cineplex.  

Primitive hot air balloons float over the cityPrimitive hot air balloons float over the cityCourtesy of Universal Studios

The story, drawn from Chinese legend, is interesting enough if not kind of illogical (i.e. these monsters try to get over the Great Wall every 60 years. Uh, the wall does not cover the entire country let alone neighboring ones. Why don’t they just go around it and why does it take them so long to figure out that they can just tunnel under it?)

Characters are stereotypical for the most part: the mercenary with the heart of gold, the powerful female commander who would love to have a personal life, the youthful soldier who sacrifices himself, etc. Matt Damon, whom I’m not sure really fits into a period film, does a decent job and his buddy love/hate banter with his fellow mercenary Tovar (played by Pedro Pascal) is funny-ish enough but seems rehashed. Great actor Willem Dafoe is a bit wasted as yet another mercenary after gun powder.

William's fellow mercenary TovarWilliam's fellow mercenary TovarCourtesy of Universal Studios

The Chinese actors are just beautiful to look at in their colorful costumes but most of their dialogue is in Chinese with English subtitles which can get old after a while. Of course the film is aimed at an international audience so doing this makes sense.

Ballard (Willem Dafoe)Ballard (Willem Dafoe)Courtesy of Universal Studios

What I did discover is that watching the spectacle of the film from ancient hot air balloons sailing over the countryside to whistling arrows helping Matt find monsters in a fog-filled landscape to an entire, multi-storied temple filled with rainbow light from stained glass windows kind of made me not care much about the movie’s shortcomings. If you like pure spectacle and human vs. monster action, you will probably enjoy the movie. We would go 4 stars on the look and action in the film but, for the entire film, with no ½ star rating system, we go 3. 

 The Great Wall Movie Rating:3

The Great Wall Movie PosterThe Great Wall Movie PosterCourtesy of Universal Studios

See The Great Wall in theaters Friday, February 17th


Have Your Say

Do you love movies based on mythical legends? How cool would fighting alien monsters on The Great Wall be? Comment below.