The Great Wall of China is an ideal setting for a truly epic, dramatic and engrossing adventure. Unfortunately, The Great Wall isn’t really that kind of movie. In fact, The Great Wall is more of a charmingly goofy, silly, and forgettable action adventure romp. Anyone expecting to gain any historically factual insights into the Great Wall of China should check those expectations at the door…unless you truly think that monsters from a meteorite are the real reason the wall was built rather than the Mongols, in which case I would think that higher education has failed us all. In any event, The Great Wall at least has the virtue of knowing exactly what kind of film it is. It never tries to take itself too seriously, it doesn’t try to do anything truly unexpected, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. So, if one goes in with the proper expectations, it can actually be kind of fun, assuming you find the idea of alien monsters being the reason for the Great Wall’s existence a fun idea, regardless of how goofy it may be.
I’m not going to waste any space on the whole controversy about Matt Damon being cast in this movie because, quite frankly, I find it about as silly as this movie. For whatever reason (probably the recent election) everyone has become hyper-sensitive, hyper-critical, and hyper-outspoken on anything that slightly upsets them. Enough already, this movie isn’t smart or serious enough for that to even be an issue. If anything, The Great Wall is the type of movie that demands less thought and more relaxed enjoyment. It’s more in the vain of the first Independence Day; it’s not supposed to be taken seriously, but it is easy to kick back and enjoy. Damon fills his role just fine, and while there was some room for some complex character development, this isn’t a complex movie, so it forgoes all of that for a very simply “rogue with a conscience” route where Damon’s character quickly find the nobility within to finally fight for something other than just himself.
In fact, the deepest conversation in this film is when Damon’s companion confronts him about his suddenly altruistic and noble motivations. “I know who you really are. I know what you really are. A thief, a liar, a killer.” While his companion insists that’s all Damon’s character will ever be, it’s quite clear in a movie of this type that he’ll quickly find that he’s much more. I once heard a wise man say that God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us the way we are. Just like Damon’s companion, God knows everything about us; which can be an uncomfortable thought. He knows all our failures, all the wrong we’ve done, all the mistakes we’ve made, all the hurt we’ve inflicted; and yet, he still loved us enough to send his Son Jesus to die for us; “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. We don’t have to change before we come to God, we can come to God just as we are because he loves us just as we are. However, he also loves us too much to leave us the way we are, which is why when we come to God, change will eventually follow. Like Damon’s character, we will find that we can better, purer, and more noble; in Christ, we will find who we really were meant to be and how we can reach our full potential.
Admittedly, however, that’s a lot to pull out from a just a few lines, but The Great Wall isn’t exactly a film abounding with substance. What it does have is a lot of visual flair, some really fun action beats, and a general, goofy, silly charm that’s hard to resist. It would be easy to pick apart all the film’s shortcomings, but in the end, I couldn’t help but like it. It was kind of refreshing to watch an unpretentious film, one that knew exactly what it was and didn’t try to be anything else. The plot is simple and straight forward, the humor is goofy, the action is great, the characters aren’t deep but are instantly likable, and it’s briskly paced without adding unnecessary extras to help it feel more “epic” (i.e. longer).
Look, The Great Wall is not a great movie, but then, I don’t think it expected to be. What it is, however, is a fun, silly action adventure that takes an intriguing setting and just has some fun with it. The open titles state that this is just one of the many “legends” about the Great Wall of China. Well, that perfectly sets the tone and tenor for the film; it clearly states that this isn’t anything to be taken all that seriously. So if you can take that at face value, you should walk away from the movie with a smile on your face. If you’ve let the current climate and mood of our culture overly affect you, you’ll just walk away from the movie with a bunch of complaints; which quite frankly, would be a real shame.
Score: 4 of 7 – The Great Wall is a silly movie that just wants to have fun. Despite the existence of the monsters, there’s nothing too scary about it, and while there’s lots of action, it’s never any more intense than your typical action adventure type story. There’s some gooey monster blood splattered here and there, but that’s about the extent of objectionable content that I can think of to consider before taking the family. Little kids probably wouldn’t get much out of it, but the rest might find it fun. Still, it’s not one I’d pay full price for; maybe a matinee, or rent later and watch at home.