Seldom in motion picture history has such stylish, visual bombast been forced to service such dumbed-down, subtly racist storytelling.
We find out early in Chinese director Zhang Yimou's "The Great Wall" that Chinese workers spent centuries constructing the Wall not to keep out murderers, rapists and drug dealers, but to stop hungry hordes of predatory lizards called Taotie from sweeping over the countryside every 60 years to fetch food for their all-powerful queen.
A bewhiskered Matt Damon plays the hero, William, apparently a really early American based on his flat accent. He and fellow mercenary Tovar ("Game of Thrones" actor Pedro Pascal) seek a magical substance called "black powder" that will make a marketable weapon.
General Shao (Zhang Hanyu), leader of an outpost army called the "Nameless Order," imprisons them. He discovers that William single-handedly killed one of the beasts. He actually kept a single hand he lopped off the critter to prove it.
Not only that, William possesses a crude magnet that interrupts the Borg-like mental messages sent by the queen to her zillions of loyal lizards that swarm over walls and structures like the zombies in "World War Z." (Both movies are based on stories by Max Brooks, Mel Brooks' son. Coincidence?)
Williams meets the feisty, conveniently English-speaking Lin (Jing Tian), commander of the spear-wielding, all-female unit that bungie-jumps into the throes of battle. They're supposed to eventually like each other, yet William generates the same chemistry with Lin as he does with the Taotie.
"The Great Wall," reportedly China's most expensive production to date, luxuriates in bold color schemes, hyper-dramatic lighting and crisply composed frames, signatures of Yimou's strong visual sense.
The movie nonetheless suffers from laughably overwritten exposition ("Those are the archers!" Williams exclaims, as if we couldn't tell) and standard-issue Hollywood exchanges about the importance of trust. (A least nobody shouts, "That's awesome!")
Ultimately, China would now be Taotie dung if not for William the white hero.
Despite support from Tian, Chinese star Andy Lau and singer/actor pop idol Lu Han, Damon's white savior figure is the only character deemed worthy of having an actual personality; all others (even Willem Dafoe's throwaway appearance) barely stretch beyond Chinese stick figures.