Cultures collide as a big budget film from China caters to American audiences as well. Matt Damon stars as the soldier, adventurer, and mercenary trader William who seeks the mysterious black powder of the Chinese. He partners with Tovar (Pedro Pascal) to elude the dangerous warriors but both are captured by the powerful army that mans the Great Wall. The army, led by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang), prepares for battle against monstrous beings reportedly from another planet.
The beings looked pretty cool and the battle sequences were awe-inspiring but the plot is a little clumsy and rushed and the acting and dialogue leave something to be desired. The magnificence of the Great Wall was captured in a few shots but most of the action scenes are confined to small areas and it never felt like the beasts attacked from more than one place, a single valley. Still seeing Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) jump from the wall with her fellow blue female soldiers to spear the creatures was a sight to behold on the big screen. Rounding out the plot is a captured trader from the West, Ballard (Willem Dafoe) also interested in the gunpowder and ways to steal it, though he had given up on ever leaving this battle.
I also appreciated that they gave a slight explanation for the language use and didn't just have characters inexplicable speaking English instead of Chinese. I enjoy subtitles when it helps create the world and deliver me to a foreign country and time. The time setting of the film is never clear though there were hints from Damon's William soldier claims to have fought in wars for the pope and other armies.
The director Yimou Zhang is known for his extraordinary work with special effects and cool slow motion action from other movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The jumping and slicing of the heroes is similar super-powered though these are just elite warriors not magical. There are plenty of gorgeous shots of the battle that aspire to other fantasy films but the budget doesn't quite allow for equality.
The Great Wall was enjoyable film going in with low expectations. I got the enjoyable action and adventure scenes though the first one was probably the most exciting and the final battle didn't live up to what was set up at the beginning. A trend in alien battles is to kill a queen and all the soldiers simply die. This plot device seems an overly easy solution for what looks like insurmountable odds. I do hope they continue to have cross country films as I enjoy being exposed to foreign lands at the cinema.