DON'T GO SEE The Great Wall looking for any sort of commentary or perspective on America’s own, possibly pending “great wall.” Don’t go looking for insight into China’s actual Great Wall, either. This silly fantasy-action-monster movie from Zhang Yimou doesn’t bother to stick even a pinkie toe into reality, which is just right for this kind of fun, stoned-Saturday-afternoon adventure. Some are bothered by a white actor (Matt Damon) fronting a largely Chinese production, although one of his co-stars, Pedro Pascal, is Chilean, and, like, I don’t know—this is a deliberately frivolous medieval fantasy about super-warriors fighting off nasty, computer-generated monsters? I’m guessing it isn't really trying to hold up a mirror to reality or interrogate the issues of representation in cinema.
The Great Wall is bookended by two big action set pieces, which are separated by an admittedly soggy middle, but the battles are good fun: The soldiers wear beautiful armor in bright, primary colors, and the coolest soldiers are the crane fighters—women bedecked in blue who bungee down from the Wall, jab at the monsters with spears, and then boing back up to safety. They’re led by Lin Mae (Jing Tian), who has some gentle hints of romance with Damon’s character—but like everything else in this movie, it’s only touched on for an instant before the next face-off with beasts.
Damon and Pascal have come to the Wall looking for explosive “black powder,” but they’re soon enlisted in the Chinese army’s fight against a bunch of giant dog-lizard monsters that swarm the Wall every 60 years. The angry lizards are led by a queen-bee type, which is handy, because it makes a vast army of nearly invincible creatures slightly easier to defeat when you can just take down the main one. While the acting is stiff (Damon is doing some sort of gruff, lockjawed shtick that doesn’t really work, and apparently Willem Defoe is in this movie too, but I can’t recall anything he said or did), the movie remains buoyant and light, like the hot-air balloons that appear towards the end for no reason! It’s energetic and easy on the eyes, and sometimes, that’s all you need out of a goofy-ass medieval monster adventure.