The Great Wall of China is simply magnificent to behold.
It stretches some 5500 miles, and was built, in sections and
pieces, over a very long period, some 1700 years, through several
Dynasties. When we visited the
Great Wall, our Chinese guide told us that it was not built to keep
barbarians out. That was
impossible (because you couldn't possibly station sentries everywhere).
It was built in order to prevent the barbarians from taking
anything valuable back with them (including horses).
Call it the world's largest anti-looting device.
But of course The Great Wall is also the subject of much
speculation and legend, and this movie freely acknowledges this, and tells
us that it's telling the story of one of those legends.
Somewhere in the vast reaches of China, sometime in Europe's Dark
Ages, a couple of European mercenaries are on a quest of find the
mysterious “black powder” they've heard so much about.
They figure if they can grab some of that magic stuff and take it
back with them, they'd be set for life.
Trouble is, their little band has been beset by banditos, and while
holed up in a cave, come across a kind of invisible monster that
eliminates everybody else, except for the two amigos, William (Matt
Damon), and Tovar (Pedro Pascal). And
while fleeing, they run smack into the Great Wall, guarded by an entire
army of soldiers with bows, arrows, spears, and disciplined determination.
The two Europeans are taken prisoner, but a couple of the Chinese
are able to speak English with them, because 25 years earlier, another
European, Ballard (Willem Dafoe), had also come in search of the black
powder, and he hasn't been allowed to leave.
William and Tovar witness the incredible preparations of this vast
army which has just been alerted that the enemy is coming, and the siege
has begun. While it's
difficult to imagine what kind of enemy could defeat this huge garrison
sitting atop this enormous wall, we soon learn that it's ancient monsters,
who re-emerge every 60 years from their hibernation to assault the
dragon-like, four-legged creatures that look like a cross between a raptor
and a crocodile. They're big
and they're mean and they're killers and there are seemingly unlimited
numbers of them swarming into battle.
The great thing about CGI in movies these days is that you can
actually make this fantasy scenario credible.
The battle scenes are fascinating, because the tactics keep
evolving. The enemy first
tries to scale the walls, and the defense involves blades, fire, and some
very brave bungee acrobats with spears.
William just happens to be an incredible marksman with
a bow and arrow, so he winds up helping in the desperate battle, which
impresses his captors, particularly the bilingual Commander Lin (Tian
Jing).Yes, there's just a hint of physical attraction there, but we're too
busy saving the nation to have any time for that mushy stuff.
The enemy has been underestimated, it actually organized a
feint/decoy manuever. But it
does have weaknesses: a magnet
will disrupt its communication system, and if you can destroy the Queen,
the rest will perish.
We root for William because suddenly he's fighting for something
noble, rather than just enriching himself, though his buddy Tovar takes
longer to get with that program, because he's enticed by the promises of
Ballard, who's an even bigger scoundrel.
So what we have here is a kind of fantasy/fiction/sci-fi/historical
drama with exotic locale and a strong hero/heroine motif.
It's a heady combination that can stir the imagination if you're
willing to suspend the considerable disbelief.