As “The Great Wall” hits theaters, it marks potentially the largest budget of any Chinese film produced to date. As a co-production between Chinese state studios and Hollywood studios, the real interest lies not in the lackluster script, but in the shining attempts to bridge the cross Pacific cinema bridge this film marks.
Starring Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal, to the tune of the accusation of white washing, “The Great Wall” is about an army facing down a standard science fiction monster from the height of the Great Wall of China. With many of the graphics reminiscent of a video game in stylization and coloring, the sequences are broad, bright, and filled with more moving parts and stunning costuming than your standard battle scenes. This is near painful contrast to the dull, lackluster dialogue and spotty plot for which these landscapes are shaped. Some of the actors try valiantly to salvage what they can from the script, while others(specifically Willem Dafoe) phone in a performance more likely a result of a failure of the salvage attempt than boredom.
Addressing the white washing controversy, I would argue that it is misplaced in the context of the film. Yes, three of our main characters are white actors. But, they are the only white actors. 99.7% of the rest of the films cast is made up of Chinese actors, most notably Jian Ting, who plays Commander Lin,the female commander of the Crane Corp. It is with her the white washing and white savior complex accusations must end, since the end of the film sees her triumph as a Commander, not her relegation to that of love interest or hapless female.
I would never accuse “The Great Wall” of having goals of critical or financial success. This experiment of combining Hollywood tentpole budget, action, and staples with a Chinese cast and culture is an intriguing one, and one that will continue regardless of the success or failure of the film.
If you are seeking a visual spectacle with an uncomplicated plot and a familiar face in the lead, by all means see “The Great Wall.” It will provide all of that, and nothing more.
But John Wick is still out there.