10 Things Parents Should Know About “The Great Wall”

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The latest Matt Damon flick. The Great Wall, opened last weekend. Just in case you decide to see it, here’s what you should know before bringing along the kids.

1. What’s it about?

Sometime in the late 11th century, a Western mercenary (Matt Damon) finds himself helping defend China from a rampaging horde of monsters at the eponymous wall.

2. Wait, it’s 2017. Are they really still making movies about white guys showing up to save the day?

Apparently so.

3. Is it at least handled well? With some sort of sensitivity?

In a way, almost. But not quite.

The idea of a foreigner arriving at the wall was kind of necessary, because the idea behind the story, such as it is, is that China gets attacked by these monsters every 60 years. So, everyone around that area would presumably know what was going on, and having someone from elsewhere provides an excuse to explain what’s happening. So I’ll give them that. However, that someone could have easily been a trader or missionary who showed up, found out what was happening, and then watched as the heroic Chinese saved the day. Or, they could have had someone from a remote part of China arrive and have to be told what was up. Or even a new recruit. There really isn’t a good excuse for it to be the Heroic White Guy.

That said, Damon doesn’t save the day alone. The Chinese soldiers and their commander, played by Tian Jing, are all shown as brave, competent warriors who really are doing their best to save their country. Damon doesn’t save the day because the Chinese can’t handle things. But he is the one that brings the MacGuffin, and he does come up with the Big Idea that finally allows them to defeat the monsters. You definitely get the feeling that the Chinese would have prevailed in the end had Damon not arrived, but that again begs the question as to exactly why he was even there in the first place.

4. Uh, spoilers?

OK, maybe that last bit was a spoiler. Or at least spoiler-adjacent. Sorry. But if you see the movie, you’ll see very quickly that this isn’t the kind of movie that takes any chances or does anything remotely creative with the story. (Or really, anything with the story at all.) Anyone who has ever seen any other movie ever will be able to guess exactly what will happen within the first few minutes.

5. But at least Matt Damon doesn’t need to get rescued this time, right?

Well, yeah. There is that.

6. What’s it rated? Why?

The MPAA gave it a PG-13 rating for “sequences of fantasy action violence”. Which aptly describes 75% of the movie.

There are a lot of monsters who get killed. And a lot of Chinese soldiers who get eaten. It’s not particularly gory, but there’s a fair amount of blood.

There is no sex or nudity, and no offensive language. Just offensive story telling.

7. When can I sneak out for a bathroom break?

Anytime, really. Pick a random five minutes from the movie and you’ll either miss a lot of “sequences of fantasy action violence” or a bunch of talking that does nothing but kill time between the “sequences of fantasy action violence.” There’s no real story and only a bare minimum of character development in the movie, so no matter what you won’t miss much.

8. Is it worth seeing in 3D?

Honestly, it wasn’t worth seeing in 2D. I did see it in 3D because my local theater chains apparently all hate me and only had 3D showings for the late screenings, which is when I see most movies. The film is chock-full of slow-motion arrows and spears and sometimes people flying through the air, with the camera dutifully panning around the arrow/spear/person to remind you that you spent those few extra bucks to see this, but I definitely wouldn’t have felt cheated had I not paid the extra $4. (Quite the opposite, actually.)

9. Are the effects at least cool?

Yeah, the effects are done well. But they aren’t anything you haven’t seen before. Well, no, I take that back. I haven’t seen a battle sequence before where women (in armor that is gorgeous but that a 13 year old boy clearly had a hand in designing) hurl themselves off a wall in an attempt to stab a monster before being pulled back up to the top of the wall. But really, once you’ve seen that a few times, it all gets pretty repetitive.

10. So I should just wait and see this when it comes to Redbox?

Probably. Or better yet, wait until it comes to Redbox, then pick something else to rent instead.

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