Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Great Wall Review

     2017 has actually been a pretty good year so far for my movie viewing experiences.  I'd only seen 12 2017 movies before sitting down to view The Great Wall and out of those 12, only 2 were duds.  I seem to recall a bit more of a balance by about this time last year so I watched this one, thinking that it might help pad out the Bad list.  I'll be completely up front with you, seeing the trailers for this movie did not make me excited one bit and Scholar and I figured that The Great Wall would end up being a hate watch, like what she did with last year's abomination Gods Of Egypt or our plans for this year's The Mummy.

      The story behind The Great Wall, conceived by Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull and World War Z author Max Brooks, is that two surviving members of a platoon of European mercenaries have traveled to China to find out the secret of gunpowder.  After a strange encounter with a creature at their camp, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Predro Pascal) happen across The Great Wall of China, only to find it heavily guarded and patrolled by an army known as The Nameless Order.  William and Tovar are captured and find themselves caught up in The Nameless Order's ongoing battle with a race of beasts known as the Tao Tei.  Having some emotional baggage, William agrees to help the Nameless Order in their fight in hopes of personal redemption.

     Now that sounds pretty silly, right?  Saying it out loud doesn't really do the movie any favors and the aforementioned trailers didn't help so I sat down with a big glass of Crown and Coke and gave it a watch...

     ...and Goddamn it, I kinda liked it.

Hey, I'm just as surprised as you are, Jing Tian.
      First of all, this is a pretty good looking movie.  There is a lot of sweeping landscape shots and a great sense of scale when getting good looks at both the wall and Bianliang later on, showing just how massive the threat they face is and even when the Tao Tei horde isn't featured onscreen, the cinematography is really nice during these moments.  When our characters reach the Wall, the movie receives a nice injection of color that the first few minutes sorely lacks with somewhat Blizzard-esque armor and weaponry being sported by The Nameless Order gives the aesthetic a more vibrant feel.  Kudos to Weta Workshop in this department because that looked great.
     Another thing that looked good was the action scenes when The Nameless Order engage the Tao Tei in combat.  The shots and editing used during these moments were clear, coherent and not so overdone that you couldn't see what was going on, which was good because this allowed the movie to unleash some brutality during these moments that I thought were pretty intense for a PG-13 movie.  The Great Wall doesn't really shy away from the fact that The Nameless Order are just as likely to get mass casualties just as the Tao Tei.  Naturally, it's not as brutal as something like Hacksaw Ridge but I was surprised by some of the shots showing what became of some of the soldiers during these fights.
     If I had to pick one thing that I enjoyed the most about this movie, it would be the score.  It was actually the first thing I noticed just as the movie was starting up.  Ramin Djawadi's music has the feel of your typical major Hollywood blockbuster but there was also a playful undertone to it which gave me flashbacks to Klaus Badelt's score for the first Pirates Of The Caribbean film.  I'm listening to this soundtrack as I write this review and to be honest, I would buy it.

Just wanted an excuse to show these costumes.
     However, a great movie The Great Wall is not.  One of the biggest problems I had with it, now that I think about it, is that there a couple of side characters in this movie that just do not need to be here.  Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe's respective characters don't really add much to the story other than an obligatory human threat to the well being of The Nameless Order and the pacing of the movie suffers whenever they're on.  Their performances are fine (actually, everyone is fine in this movie although it takes Matt Damon a few minutes to really get into it) and I don't have anything against the actors but they just weren't that interesting to follow.  Whenever Tovar and William would get into a spat, I found myself wanting to get back to The Nameless Order stuff, not because of the action and the costume designs but their ranks, hierarchy and way of life was more engaging and even then, I wasn't completely wrapped up with those characters either.  Pascal and Dafoe's characters could've been cut from the movie and I don't think much would've really been lost.
     I am also on the fence about the Tao Tei's designs.  They grew on me a bit more as the film progressed but the first good look you get at them 19 minutes in left me feeling very underwhelmed at the designs and, well, you only get one chance at a first impression.  Other than that, there's your typical blockbuster movie nitpicks: some bad greenscreen near the beginning of the film, it gets very, VERY CGI heavy at the end and it doesn't always look the best and I can imagine there's probably a lot of people who were mad/disappointed at a tease of a big action sequence that we only ever saw the aftermath of.
     In the end...yeah.  The Great Wall is not the wreck I was expecting it to be.  It's not a game-changer in the action movie genre, the dialogue isn't Tarantino levels and there's very little humor to be had here but it is an enjoyable, CG creature-feature war film with some pretty intense action sequences and an overall fun feel to it.  I'm not saying I'd run out and buy the Blu-Ray full price but if I found it in the cheap bins, I'd honestly pick it up.  I'm giving The Great Wall the ranking of a Fun Ride.

      So folks, what did you think of The Great Wall?  As always, thank you so much for reading and if you like what you see on this blog, you be sure to nudge that "Follow" button and stay cynical!

     -The Cynic

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