The Great Wall [Review by CLGJr]
INT. LEGENDARY ENTERTAINMENT’S BURBANK OFFICES – 2014.
ZHANG YIMOU: Matt, thanks so much for coming by to talk about the new picture. You got the script, right?
MATT DAMON: Absolutely, Mr. Yimou, but I only had a chance to skim it. I recently finished shooting a movie called “The Martian.” It was a trip. My character grows poop potatoes and staves off insanity by cracking wise. I can only assume I’ll be fielding questions about whether the film is a comedy or drama for years to come.
YIMOU: Sounds confusing. Well, the head honchos at the studio thought you would be the perfect choice for a legend about the Great Wall of China. Mind you, this saga has no basis in local lore.
YIMOU POINTS TO THE MEN SEATED OFF TO THE SIDE, WHO WE NOW REALIZE ARE THE SCRIPT TEAM.
These three screenwriters and three additional storytellers get full credit!
DAMON: About the script. I have A LOT of questions . . . .
YIMOU: I’ll cut you off right there, Matt, ‘cause I already know where you’re heading. Ok, first, you are the star. Many Chinese actors will be cast, but they will be little more than necessary set pieces. That said, you won’t have to work very hard on this movie. Most of the lines that our narrative brain trust put to paper are three-word sentences. Maximum. What about your character William’s story and country of origin? Easy. Your background is as hazy as a smog-filled Beijing day. We know that you were a ne’er-do-well who pillaged many a European country. But I want your accent to fluctuate seamlessly between an Irish and Scottish brogue. If you just want to sound like Matt Damon for most of the film, that works, too.
DAMON: Yeah, but this fable—what the hell are the Tao Tei? The Nameless Order exists, and yet they seem to have unwittingly been given a name. HELP.
YIMOU: Ugh, I know. Here’s the deal. We need the Tao Tei to tether “The Great Wall” to actual Chinese tradition with a modicum of integrity. These beasties are everything like what you’ve seen or heard before. Their saliva glands are mouth geysers, they sound uncannily like the Xenomorph from “Alien,” and they look like the demon spawn of the Budweiser chameleons and a “Lion King” hyena. They represent something about greed and insensitivity and punishing the sinful Chinese people. And wouldn’t ya know it? They attack the Wall every 60 years to feast on humans and feed their queen like a reverse mother bird (gross!), an event that just happens to coincide with your mission to find, get this, gunpowder. As for the Nameless Order, well, that’s just a placeholder that I’m sure we’ll change before filming starts.
DAMON: Why do I get a strong “Game of Thrones” vibe from the script? Do you think Benioff and Weiss will come after us for copyright infringement? The members of the Order look like are they sorted by sigil and swear oaths to defend an enormous wall against unsavory outsiders. The opening credits also seem ripped straight from the show’s animated map playbook.
YIMOU: I guarantee there’s absolutely no comparison. Sure, the Wall’s warriors sport vaguely animalistic motifs in their armor, but ours are even more color-coded! We will explain all of this in excruciating detail–just as we lay out the rest of this world–through clipped conversations between you and two other characters. The only overlap with GoT is that your sardonic compadre played Oberyn Martell. Pretty cool, huh? We also depend on a lazy motivation for joining the battle against the Tao Tei rather than any real attempt at characterization. At first William will be a fierce, independent fighter asked by a commander (more on her later, I bet) to take a leap of faith. He’ll eventually get a second crack at a trust fall with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. Make sense?
DAMON: I guess. But I need to discuss two more things before I agree. Have you landed another major star? Someone like Casey Affleck’s brother? Oh! What about a Hemsworth brother? And there’s a love interest, right? You know the American audiences won’t settle for a straight-up battle film.
YIMOU: No Aussies or Brits from the action-movie stable signed on. Guess who was game, though? Willem Dafoe! He’s gonna do his standard creepy guy shtick but otherwise be completely unnecessary to the plot.
YIMOU LOOKS TO THE SCREENWRITERS.
THEY SHEEPISHLY NOD IN AFFIRMATION.
There’s a lady you get to woo, mainly because Dafoe’s character taught her—and seemingly only her—how to speak English. Tian Jing is handling that role, you know, the commander I mentioned before. Your wife won’t have to worry at all. This romance is so chaste and perfunctory you’ll be plucking icicles off her armor.
DAMON: Last thing, I promise. Just how “great” is this wall?
YIMOU: I thought you’d never ask. Unlike the real human marvel, we’ve outfitted this version with retractable blades, moving compartments, and launch pads for soldiers to use like martial diving boards. And still, somehow, the Tao Tei will breach it. Go figure.
DAMON: So, this is a cautionary tale for the current American political scene? I can get behind that!
YIMOU: It could be. But if you’re asking me what this movie is about or, hell, why it exists, your guess is as good as mine.
THE TWO MEN SMILE WRYLY, SHAKE HANDS, AND WALK OUT OF THE CONFERENCE ROOM. THE SCREENWRITING TEAM CLOSE THEIR LAPTOPS AND FINALLY EXHALE.
CLGJr Verdict: An inexplicable release. Come, if you must, for the arresting 3D visual effects. Stay if you dare.
The Great Wall opened Friday, February 17.
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