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A visual extravaganza: Rashid Irani’s review of The Great Wall

Lavish colour-coded costumes, impeccable production design and nifty special effects make the film eminently watchable.

movie reviews Updated: Feb 03, 2017 18:16 IST
Rashid Irani
Lavish colour-coded costumes, impeccable production design and nifty special effects make The Great Wall eminently watchable, but it takes a while to build momentum and works hard to sustain it.
Lavish colour-coded costumes, impeccable production design and nifty special effects make The Great Wall eminently watchable, but it takes a while to build momentum and works hard to sustain it.

THE GREAT WALL

Direction: Zhang Yimou

Actors: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal

Rating: 3 / 5

This film is by the same man who orchestrated the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics; and he’s working off a budget of over $150 million — so it’s no surprise that Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is visually bewitching.

Blending a knack for spectacle and showmanship, the Chinese filmmaker pulls out all the stops in his first (predominantly) English-language movie.

Unfortunately, while adhering to the tried-and- true action movie template, the film often lacks dramatic depth. The first half is tediously inert, and it only fitfully gains momentum from then on.

Here’s the plot: During the reign of an ancient dynasty, a couple of mercenaries (Matt Damon-Pedro Pascal) on the trail of a cache of gunpowder — then a valuable new invention — are captured and held hostage by an elite faction of the Chinese army.

As a mercenary and ace archer, Matt Damon displays characteristic agility.The Chilean-born Pedro Pascal, in the role of sidekick, strives to provide comic relief.

Barricaded behind the Great Wall, they join forces to ward off attacks from thousands of mythical beasts.

Lavish colour-coded costumes, impeccable production design and nifty special effects make it eminently watchable, thanks in part to cinematographers Zhao Xiaoding and Stuart-Dryburg and the New Zealand-based Weta Workshop.

There is a particularly poignant interlude involving hundreds of airborne white lanterns released in tribute to a fallen general.

As the ace archer, Damon displays characteristic agility. But the rest of the characters are thin.

The Chilean-born Pascal, in the role of sidekick, strives to provide comic relief. The Chinese cast members, including Tian Jing in the role of a skydiving commander and teen boy-band member Wang Junkai as the effete emperor, are saddled with superficial parts.

Overall, The Great Wall may not rank among Zhang Yimou’s emotionally weighty masterworks like To Live (1994) or The Road Home (1999), but as a visual extravaganza it nevertheless merits a viewing.

Watch the trailer for The Great Wall here