Movie Review









Matt Damon as William; Tian Jing as Commander Lin Mae; Pedro Pascal as Tovar; Willem Dafoe as Ballard; Andy Lau as Strategist Wang


Yimou Zhang


Universal Pictures


February 17, 2017


Bob Hoose


When he started his trek with a band of some thirty other fighters, William was little more than a 15th-century mercenary. He was a very good one, mind you, a master archer. But he’d spent his whole life fighting for the flag of whoever would pay him to nock an arrow or two … and knock down combatants on the receiving end.

This time, however, things would be different.

William’s latest venture was supposed to be his chance to become a wealthy man. He and his men-of-war had determined they would journey to exotic China and procure a legendary substance: a black powder of the East that reportedly turned the air itself into an explosion of flame. If it was real, that sort of seemingly magical matter could change any man’s fortune on the battlefield.

By the time William actually finds the stuff, however, his group has been whittled down, death by death, to just him and a Spanish warrior named Tovar. And where they find the black powder, well, that is almost beyond belief.

William and Tovar stumble upon a wall in this strange and dangerous land. And not just any wall. No, this gigantic edifice stretches across the horizon as far as the eye can see in either direction. And manning this massive rampart is a monumental army, the size of which William has never witnessed in all his years of war.

Why are they there? What are they protecting? Surely those myriad Chinese soldiers aren’t amassed just to keep foreigners such as William and Tovar away from that rumored explosive powder.

The journeymen soon get answers to their questions: The warriors on the wall are there to protect their people from the hordes of something called the Tao Tei. Every 60 years, these dragon-like beasts swarm down from the mountains by the hundreds of thousands. And the only thing that keeps them from destroying all of China—and then perhaps the rest of humanity—is this wall and its grimly determined army.

Unbelievable as that story sounded to William’s ears, it’s quickly proven true. The first wave of the deadly beasts’ assault is vicious and fearsome. And for all of their bravery and might, the Chinese army barely holds the wall during that initial attack.

As the Chinese warriors, men and women, bind their wounds and prepare for the next onslaught, William realizes something: This time, things aredifferent. This time, William’s fighting for something more than just money.

For unlike any other battle in his life, this time William has a cause well worth fighting for.


As William is drawn to the plight of the besieged Chinese army, Tavor warns him not to play the hero. “I know who you are, know what you are: You’re a thief, a liar and a killer,” he spits. William has been all of those things, of course. But now, there’s an opportunity for redemption.

A female warrior named Commander Lin talks to William about the honor of trusting those who fight beside you and battling for the good of all. That sentiment plucks a chord for the seasoned fighter. William is compelled to put his life on the line for what’s right, for a people who were only shortly before unknown foreigners whom he’d intended to plunder. He repeatedly saves those around him, and ultimately relinquishes his plan to purloin Chinese black powder. In fact, at one point he even turns aside an easy offer of wealth to simply aid a friend in trouble.

Throughout the film, we also see others who are willing to make great sacrifices—even their very lives—to save their compatriots.


Though they’re never presented in an explicitly spiritual way, the mystical Toa Tei have telepathic powers as well as Chinese characters mysteriously inscribed on their foreheads. Tovar asks, “What god made these things?” when he first glimpses the attacking monsters. “None that we know,” William replies.


Female warriors’ armor accents their feminine curves. William is shown shirtless as his wounds are treated.


There’s quite a bit of explosive thumping and gushing in this action-heavy movie. Fiery, cannonball-like projectiles explode, fields and buildings burn, arrows fill the air and great beasts leap out of the night with screeching fury.

The monstrous Tao Tei get sliced in half with large blades, as well as being dismembered and decapitated. Human warriors jam spears and arrows into the monsters’ eyes. Other beasties get blown into large chunks by explosives—all to gory, graphic, goopily green effect.

Humans die by the score, too, as the ferocious Tao Tei pounce on them in savage packs. The dragon-like creatures feed on human victims with sharp-toothed maws. In these cases, however, the goriness is dialed back just a bit. Throughout most of the movie, human heroes get battered, scraped and lightly bloodied, but their explosive obliteration and the rending of their flesh is generally just offscreen.


Two s-words and a handful of uses each of “b–tard” and “h—.” People exclaim, “Good god!” and “Mother of god!”




Two men steal vital resources in an effort to gain riches, putting hundreds of others at risk.


The Great Wall is all about big.

This is one of the first co-produced efforts blending Chinese cinematic sweep and Hollywood CGI-fueled star power. It tells the epically colossal story of a 13,000 mile wall supporting an enormous army that’s fending off vast throngs of gigantic, hive-minded beasties. And the movie even sports a big American star: Matt Damon grunts out his beefy lines and shoots scores of pinpoint-targeted arrows while taking his heroic stand amid a swirling multitude of colorfully clad Chinese soldiers.

Chinese director Yimou Zhang ignites the scenery with mammoth fiery cannonballs, filling the air with everything from screaming arrows to bungie-jumping soldiers in Power Ranger-like armor. There’s nothing subtle or nuanced in The Great Wall: It’s a massive, popcorn-munching, monster-mashing actioner. Nothing more and nothing less.

Can younger walk away with anything positive here? Yes. The film illustrates the importance of working together and learning to trust others. Heroes make great sacrifices for others. And a character of questionable moral background changes his stripes to do what’s right in a time of need.

Still, families that choose to plop down into comfy chairs at the local Cineplex also need to know they’ll face some rough-edged language and a whole lot of screeching, gushing, exploding, sharp-toothed … big.

‘Cause that’s what this one is all about.

Copyright 2016 Focus On The Family and


Bob Waliszewski’s List of Family-Friendly-Movies!


The 33

56 Up

The Artist



Beyond the Mask

The Book Thief


Chasing Mavericks


The Drop Box


Far from the Madding Crowd

God’s Not Dead

The Good Lie