Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall trailer

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Movie review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Movie reviews

Hello!

Do I even need to introduce this movie?! ‘It’s RogueRogue One‘. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.

Before we start, if you are interested, this is my The Force Awakens review from last year and this is my more personal post regarding Star Wars. Also, I should probably give you a Spoiler warning, although, if you have seen the original trilogy, you know what was/is the end game for the characters of this story.

Even though the hype for Rogue One was much smaller than for The Force Awakens, I was still excited for it. So, let’s get the short version of the judgment out of the way first: Rogue One is not only the best Star Wars prequel but also might be my favorite movie of this year. It also makes me rethink the top spots on my personal Star Wars preference list.

Writing

Rogue One’s script was written by a duo of screenwriters: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Weitz has mostly worked on comedies and YA adaptations, like The Golden Compass and the Twilight franchise. He also wrote last year’s Cinderella. Gilroy wrote the majority of the Bourne films, Armageddon, and the critically acclaimed Michael Clayton. Judging Rogue’s One’s narrative, in relation to the scriptwriters’ previous work, I think that this film had the best writing I have seen from both of them.

The story

I immensely enjoyed the story of the film: the plot was cohesive and clear and yet the narrative was complex.  All of the 3 acts blended seamlessly – the movie never slowed down. It had the perfect mixture of action and quieter character moments. The picture was also suspenseful and exciting, it compelled me both emotionally and intellectually. I loved the lines about how rebellions are built on hope and the one about taking all the chances. I also adored the world building: the screenwriters respected the canon but also expanded it.

The characters

Rogue One begun as a story of Jyn Erso, but it soon blossomed into a more of an ensemble based movie. I believe that all the characters received a chance to shine and that their presence in the film was more than justified. I also appreciated the fact that the rebel characters were not portrayed as pure heroes but as realistic individuals, who have been through a lot and sometimes had to make the tough decisions, which were not always good. The fact that the alliance was presented as divisive also added more intrigue and realism into the story. Lastly, as we all predicted, the main rebel characters of the film all died. They were basically the real Suicide Squad of this year. The characters were really well developed through small and seemingly unimportant interactions in just one movie that their passing was quite emotional. I was invested in their lives and in their story and I’m quite sad that we only got to spent a few hours with them. All of them were unique and interesting in their own way and I don’t actually think that I can name another recent film with such rich (with potential) characters.

Directing

Godzilla’s director  Gareth Edwards helmed Rogue One and did not disappoint. I loved the scope of the film and all the exciting action in space. I also enjoyed the fact that this film visually looked like a Star Wars movie but had its own unique setting and locations – the fight on the beach and in the water was so cool. I also liked the fact that this movie was grittier and more sophisticated than the other recent fantasy films. The grit was appropriate, effective, and well balanced with funny moments (not like in BvS). The way the new characters were realized visually was super cool too: Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic’s white cape was impeccable, Donnie Yen’s character’s look was amazing and Forest Whitaker’s Gerrera‘s appearance added so much to the character.

The film also had a few familiar faces popping up in cameos and small roles. At first, I thought that the inclusion of Darth Vader was not necessary as he did not have much to do. However, a couple of scenes with him at the end were so amazing that they made me change my mind. Grand Moff Tarkin also appeared with the help of CGI. The effects looked okay but I, since I knew that the original actor who portrayed the character sadly passed away 20 years ago, I instantly noticed the computer imagery. Leia also cameoed in the film and I think that her CGI face looked better, maybe because we only saw it for a couple of seconds. Lastly, the new droid K-2SO was a really nice addition too. He finally seemed like a fully rounded up character, because all the previous droids would mostly have one purpose. C-3PO is mostly in the films to be an annoying comedic relief, while BB-8’s main job is to be cute. R2-D2 is probably the one who is closest to being a full character, but since the audience can’t understand its speech, it is quite hard to connect with him. K-2SO, on the other hand, seemed like a real person with a distinct personality and yet he was still efficient as a droid.

Music

Michael Giacchino scored the film but my favorite aural parts of the film were, of course, the original soundtrack and the empire’s theme. Hearing that music didn’t make me as emotional as it did last year when The Force Awakens came out, though. Last December, I could not believe that I got to see a Star Wars movie in the cinema. This time around I was just enjoying the experience of watching the film, without paying much attention to the brand under which it was made.

Acting

  • Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso was fabulous. I wasn’t entirely sure how she will do in an action film but she blew me away. She was likable and inspiring but still had the level of darkness inside. I loved Jones’s and Luna’s chemistry and all their scenes together as well.
  • Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Andor was my favorite character of the film, and Luna’s performance – my favorite performance of the whole cast. He was just so compelling and intriguing. Would love to read a book or a comic with his character’s background. I absolutely loved how damaged and tortured he was inside, but how he still managed to make the right choice. Cassian Andor as character reminded me a bit of Poe Dameron too. I wonder if I’m the only one who saw the resemblance. 
  • Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic was superb. Not only his appearance was cool, but his behavior as the nonchalant bad-ass villain was amazing as well. His whiny brat moments also added a lot of vulnerability to the character. 
  • Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe was so amazing. I loved that we got to see the force from a different perspective though his character and I also loved his action scenes. Yen’s back and forth scenes with Wen Jiang’s character  Baze Malbus were fun too.
  • Mads Mikkelsen played Galen Erso and was really good. I liked him in this film way more than in Doctor Strange. I just think that he got to show more of his dramatic acting skills in this film. 
  • Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook was also a marvelous addition to the cast. I loved his character’s arc and the transition.
  • Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera was spectacular too. His look and behavior were interesting both visually and from the narrative standpoint.
  • Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. Tudyk did a magnificent job with the motion capture as well as with his voice work: he made K-2SO’s dry sense of humor immensely entertaining. 

In short, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was/is another strong addition to the brand. The story was engaging, the characters unique and original, and the space action – spectacular as usual.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Rogue One trailer

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