Matt Damon climbs 'The Great Wall' with honor (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- If mild-mannered epic action fantasy is your thing, "The Great Wall" won't disappoint. Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play William and Tovar, respectively, a pair of European soldiers of fortune in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644)....

Matt Damon climbs 'The Great Wall' with honor (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- If mild-mannered epic action fantasy is your thing, "The Great Wall" won't disappoint.

Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play William and Tovar, respectively, a pair of European soldiers of fortune in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). They are on a mission to find this mysterious black powder they have heard about that explodes upon contact with fire. We know it today as gunpowder.

They think they could make a figurative and literal killing with it if they could bring a load of it back to the West. If only they can find a supply before marauding thieves kill them. When we meet them, they have already lost 20 of their men to various battles on their journey.

During their travels, they stumble upon a kingdom situated on the 5,500-mile-long Great Wall of China. The kingdom is currently under siege by an enormous army of Orc-like monsters called the Tao Tei that surface every 60 years and devour all humans within reach. They are kind of like cicadas but larger, more scary and voracious.

William becomes enamored of the kingdom's beautiful woman warrior, General Lin, played by Jing Tian. She, in turn, is impressed with his archery skills. A very tasteful romantic tango ensues between the two of them.

The movie, while very predictable plot-wise, is nonetheless visually stunning, both for its landscapes along and surrounding the Great Wall and during the battle scenes between the imperial army and the legion of snarling Tao Tei. Director Zhang Yimou ("The House of Flying Daggers") is renowned for his sweeping cinematic flair, and his ability to create unforgettable images helps make the movie's rather mundane story much more palatable. That the movie is shot in 3-D only adds to its unforgettable vistas.

The movie is a pale cross between the uber buddy film based on the Rudyard Kipling story "The Man Who Would Be King" and any one of the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Perhaps "The Great Wall's" most admirable quality is its brevity. The film editor here was thoughtful enough, through the employment of judicial pruning, to make sure the movie didn't overstay its welcome. It doesn't pretend to be anything more than the Saturday afternoon matinee that it is.

REVIEW

The Great Wall

Who: With Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau. Directed by Zhang Yimou.

Rated: PG-13.

Running time: 103 minutes.

Opens: Opens Friday.

Where: Area theaters.

Grade: B-

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