One of the most irritating cinematic buzzwords I hear people use is “whitewashing”.
Lots of people used this word when describing The Great Wall since Matt Damon was casted in a movie about China. Never mind that the movie was produced by a Chinese corporation and directed by a Chinese man, and never mind the fact that Matt Damon’s role was supposed to be a white character, the rage brigade (led mainly by white people as far as I’ve seen) quickly criticized the movie.
This virtue signaling is almost never about whether or not the actor deserves the role. I know this because these same people who bemoan these casting decisions are almost completely dismissive of people who get irritated when white characters are recasted to another race. I also know this because of conversations I have with them; one example is when I was talking to an acquaintance, and he was mocking Emma Stone in “Aloha” where she was apparently casted in a non-white role. Once he was finished mocking her, I asked him, “So Stone was pretty bad in her role then?”
He paused for a second and then said, “Well, I’ve never actually seen the movie.”
As for the movie itself, it is a fun popcorn flick despite the fact that it is largely incompetent and forgettable (don’t worry, I’m not going to just throw the word “forgettable” around without explaining why it’s forgettable).
Matt Damon’s character is so gritty and generic that there’s nothing that really defines him outside of your stereotypical “hero protagonist” character. He’s an orphan who never knew his family, and all he knows is fighting, and this story gives him the chance to redeem himself, and generic, generic, generic. Now the fact that this character arc is overdone is not necessarily the problem; the problem is that they don’t add anything new to his character.
What’s worse is that Matt Damon’s accent is all over the place in this entire movie. In the first act, he has this gritty southern accent, as if he’s some hardened coal-miner. Then, around the second act of the movie, the accent all but vanishes except for a few scenes, and Matt Damon basically starts sounding like stereotypical Matt Damon. Any other time, he speaks in an Irish accent.
At first, I wanted to give the movie the benefit of the doubt because Damon’s character is a man who has “fought under many flags” and been in many countries, and maybe his accent changes amplified this fact. However, this movie never demonstrates this kind of subtle ingenuity in any other aspect, so I am forced to assume that it was probably Matt Damon failing to keep a consistent accent.
Every other character does okay with the role that he or she is given, but there is no character that stands out as fantastic or memorable.
There were a couple of scenes that demonstrated some very vivid and interesting color schemes. This mostly happens during the beginning and the end, but it made the movie a lot more visually interesting. I was wondering if the film would explain why the Chinese soldiers all had different armor colors, and thankfully, the movie has a reasoning for it. Unfortunately, it’s told to us through exposition.
There’s a few moments where the script gives us humor or warmth, but generally speaking, the dialogue is usually bland and expository. This definitely played a part in making these characters feel unspecial.
The cinematography is largely forgettable save for the vibrant color palettes. The very beginning of the movie was so shaky and unfocused that I was afraid the film would give me a headache.
Is there a bad guy in this movie? Not really. The big enemy is an army of mythical monsters, so there’s no great antagonist that causes this film to be memorable either. It’s true that Damon’s character is conflicted between choosing between selfishness (leaving with his hispanic and white companions) and fighting for a nobler cause (staying with the Chinese warriors), but there’s no huge amount of interest there either. Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal really aren’t that great of characters either.
The biggest recommendation that I have for this movie is that at least it’s a fun movie that has enough action to not be boring. Aside from that, everything else was either forgettable or bad. If you’re just looking for a good time of swords, action, and honor, then I would recommend this film. Otherwise, this movie is just downright “meh”, and I’m giving The Great Wall a 4 out of 10.