The Great Wall Defends Mindless Action While Keeping Out Substance

The Great Wall Defends Mindless Action While Keeping Out Substance

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Matt Damon is the lead role in the new movie, “The Great Wall.”

In 1999, the now infamous film “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” was released. Fea­turing an overly-com­pli­cated plot involving space pol­itics, char­acters people wish never existed, and hordes of CGI robots, the film today pos­sesses a small cult fol­lowing, but the vast majority of its viewers wish they could reclaim their forever lost two hours and sixteen minutes. This year, “The Great Wall,” a film by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, is poised to be the con­tem­porary “Phantom Menace” for many of the same reasons, the most prominent being its not-so-subtle political message.  

Of all the film’s issues, none takes more prece­dence than the forced metaphor of the mon­sters rep­re­senting man’s greed. When audi­ences learn that the mutant lizards are not from a reject Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie but are instead the spawn of “man’s greed,” there will assuredly be some eye-rolls. Regardless of the monster’s obvious color sym­bolism, the film preaches that if the mon­sters (arguably man’s cap­i­tal­istic greed) are not stopped, they will consume the world. The solution is to elim­inate the Queen, who acts as the hive-mind, the source of man’s greed.

To under­stand the mess that is “The Great Wall,” here is an extremely brief yet sur­pris­ingly accurate plot summary: two European mer­ce­naries travel to China in search of “black powder” but instead come across a great wall manned by Tele­tubby-esque war­riors preparing to defend against an invasion of green, over­sized, mutated komodo dragons.

The film’s one redeeming quality is its visual effects, and this is under­standable since most of the film’s budget went into CGI devel­opment; this fact explains the film’s gross lack of any plot what­soever. To add insult to injury, there is no context for audience members. Within the film’s first thirty minutes, audi­ences are trans­ported from what appears to be the Bad­lands of South Dakota to an enormous wall filled with sol­diers, who within minutes are fighting an endless horde of CGI lizard crea­tures. What are these mon­sters and why do they exist? These answers are not revealed until much later in the film, which is not only con­fusing but poor sto­ry­telling. Instead, the film demands that audi­ences sit back, relax, and watch red, purple, blue, yellow, and black armored sol­diers fight green mon­sters with absurd, his­tor­i­cally inac­curate weapons. If you suffer from epilepsy or if you imagine that you will conjure a migraine after watching random colors of the rainbow clash with jade green for two hours, this movie is not for you.

Alongside a nonex­istent plot, the film is also plagued by a host of smaller, yet per­sistent issues. For example, after the con­clusion of the film, I can only remember one name, William. This is not a per­sonal memory slip. I attended the film with two others and neither can remember any other names. The rainbow colored sol­diers make a lot more sense in light of this dilemma; it is a tes­tament to the nonex­istent char­acter devel­opment in this film. It is almost impos­sible to dif­fer­en­tiate one char­acter from another. Sec­ondly, the nature of the mon­sters is both bizarre and incon­sistent. While the mon­sters are pre­sented as “hive-minded,” on mul­tiple occa­sions the mon­sters are often seen exer­cising free will. This paradox of para­doxes would not be so noticeable if it was not so per­vasive throughout the film. Thirdly, there is no attention given to location. While an argument can be made for the film’s location residing solely in China, there is no excuse for poor tran­si­tions between scenes taking place in com­pletely unre­lated areas. One such example is the movement from a wide shot of the Great Wall to a twisted, green-glowing chasm that looks like it was spliced from “The Return of the King.” Not only is this dis­ori­en­tating but poor cinema at its worst.

“The Great Wall” sells itself as a mindless action flick that sac­ri­fices plot and audience interest for mayhem. With a cast of under­de­veloped char­acters, unin­ter­esting antag­o­nists, no context, and a forced political message, it is dif­ficult to simply appre­ciate the film as “enter­tainment.” Because of the surplus of cin­e­matic mayhem, some viewers may have dif­fi­culty in remem­bering who is sup­posed to win. It’s not the mon­sters and it’s not the color-coded Chinese war­riors.