What were they trying to keep out is the question answered in acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s English language monster film The Great Wall, centred around just one of the legends surrounding The Great Wall of China’s construction all those years ago. Starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary teaming together with an elite army to defend against a horde of giant monsters, this good old-fashioned cheesy blockbuster full of colour and exciting fun does fall slightly short of great but it’s definitely a lot better than the trailer would have you believe. 

Merging the two biggest film industries on the planet in The United States and China whilst simultaneously coming at a time of coincidental social relevance, this perfect example of a mindless popcorn action fantasy adventure flick makes for an ideal weekend movie which could very well be Donald Trump’s new favourite.

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Set in the time of the Song dynasty during the reign of the Renzong Emperor, a group of mercenaries consisting of twenty men are on the hunt for black powder (the earliest known chemical explosive) and on the run from bandits who have already killed some of their group. Hiding out in a nearby cave, the men are attacked by an unknown monster, leaving only William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) left alive.

Managing to slash off one of the monster’s arms before it fled deep into an abyss, the two men decide to take the arm with them on their journey where the next day they stumble across the north entrance of the Great Wall. Taken prisoner by The Nameless Order – an elite army of Chinese soldiers who protect the wall day and nightly and suspect the men of larceny – William and Tovar soon learn the arm they severed belongs to that of a Tao Tei, member of a massive horde of alien monsters who rise to wreak death and destruction every sixty years.

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Shocked to realise the impending attack is sooner than was expected, the commanding officers must quickly prepare for war, commencing battle stations as the first wave of monsters attacks the Great Wall. Shackled yet embroiled in an all-out invasion that will determine the fate of the human race, William’s quest for fortune turns into a battle of life and death as he and Tovar break free from their chains to join the fight, helping the army to hopefully defeat the seemingly unstoppable force, finding his purpose in life whilst doing so.

Featuring a unique twist on an otherwise established premise, The Nameless Order; commissioned by a special division of the Imperial Army for the sole purpose of repelling the Tao Tei once every six decades, is divided into five colour-coded special units each with distinctive skills. Using bright red, blue, yellow, purple and black to help identify each part’s specific duty and position on the battlefield, the colour palette throughout not only pops very well but also adds believability that these individuals have trained their whole lives for the impending invasion with extreme respect for their creed.

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With Damon’s talent and status as a leading man helping you forget the often noticeably B-grade CGI and special effects blending not so well with the well done realistic set designs, the film starts off strong with impressive action, likeable characters you can get behind and certain Lord of the Rings nostalgia to keep your positives higher than your negatives even if momentum is lost with its ‘by the numbers’ ending.

Co-starring Pascal as the perfect sidekick to Damon’s hero with a bromance love/hate relationship the cause for many laughs and the gorgeous Jing Tian as fierce femme fatale warrior Commander Lin stealing every scene she’s in, the action and slight 1990’s vibe make for an effective monster film with enough quirky one-liners and battle scenes to please all, even if Willem Dafoe is wasted in a role that anyone could have played.

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Energetic, not too long and full of fun; The Great Wall isn’t going to win any awards, but it should your attention. A simple tale of Man versus Beast with cool looking monsters, grand spectacle and Matt Damon in a pony-tail, the most expensive Chinese film ever made is one worth a watch.

1700 years to build, 5500 miles long, a true wonder of the world.

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