The Great Wall (3 stars)

The Great Wall

Matt Damon heads up this thin but thrilling fantasy epic from acclaimed director Zhang Yimou

Matt Damon plays an 11th century mercenary / adventurer in a hectic fantasy epic that is like a cross between the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics and a video game. Damon and sidekick Pedro Pascal (the memorable Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones) are tough, rascally fighting men who venture to China for the highly coveted, mysterious black powder that makes things go boom.

Captured and imprisoned at the not-yet-famous Wall, they are awed by the thousands of elite warriors, intrigued by a furtive old prisoner (Willem Dafoe) who conveniently taught his captors English, beguiled by a commanding warrior princess (Jing Tian) and besieged by a terrifying swarm of unstoppable invaders that are slavering distant cousins of the Lord of the Rings' orcs.

Plot and character development are, shall we say, unsophisticated. It mainly boils down to kill, kill, kill, but finds space for a spot of gunpowder thieving, bonding with the babe, and seeking redemption for past misdeeds by manning up against the monsters.

Director Zhang Yimou – one of the foremost of China's celebrated Fifth Generation of filmmakers, and the auteur of classics including Raise the Red Lantern and colourful martial arts extravaganza House of Flying Daggers – is clearly going full-on for both the Hollywood blockbuster crowd and the burgeoning Chinese youth market with this crossover. We say good luck to him since he hasn't brought his exquisite skills to anything this visually striking since marshalling multitudes into that dazzling display in the Bird's Nest stadium at the 2008 Olympic Games. Here we get bands of thundering drummers, armies of archers in red, scads of swordsmen in purple, the odd Hong Kong superstar like Andy Lau, and the stunning likes of the Crane Corps, a blue-clad division of women who bungee jump from the Wall into the maws of the marauders far below.

Damon is likeable and summons his inner action hero and it's all amusingly reminiscent of Arabian Nights and the 'sword and sandals' yarns that used to thrill in the matinees of yesteryear. But gorier. And Chinese! Let the sophisticates sneer, it's spectacularly spiffing hooey.

General release from Fri 17 Feb.

The Great Wall

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • China / US
  • 1h 43min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Zhang Yimou
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe

Two tough, rascally fighting men (Damon and Pascal, who was Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones) travel to China, get captured, are beguiled by a warrior princess (Jing) and besieged by beasties. Director Zhang is going for full-on blockbuster: plot and character are less important than spectacular action, Damon is…