Beat Your Head Against It!
Mercenaries from the West reach the Great Wall in China and discover that the purpose of the wall is not just to keep thieves and marauding Mongols away, but to keep monstrous creatures called Taotei away from the capital city. The mercenaries captured by the Chinese army fight alongside to neutralise the monsters. The film could have been spectacular, but has such terrible CGI, everything ends up looking pathetic.
Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and the band of mercenaries are traveling through China in search of the legendary ‘black powder’ (that blows up things and people). One by one the group is killed, either by other mercenaries or by something mysterious that lurks in the dark. Matt Damon manage to slay one and keeps the creature (looks like a gigantic dog-like creature with crocodile like skin and a mouth like a T-Rex) and keeps one limb as a souvenir. When the two get caught by the Chinese, they watch in awe as the Nameless Order march in precise fashion and are trained to kill the monsters that lurk in the shadows.
Andy Lau Tak Wah gets to be the strategic advisor, Zhang Hanyu plays the role of General Shao and the beautiful Jing Tian plays the role of the leader of the acrobatic Crane troop who jump off the Great Wall in bungee like contraptions and spear the monsters. There are ancient lift like contraptions inside the wall for the soldiers to reach the top as well. And it looks like there are many levels inside the wall where the army has enough space to have barracks and large dining area underground. Matt Damon demonstrates his skill with the bow and arrow and since he and his pal wash up well, and his skill with the arrows, they are allowed to eat with the army. So much trust in strange white men by the Chinese army? Maybe because they have William Dafoe who they have captured 25 years ago (for the same black powder) and now lives with them. He is the one who has taught Jing Tian to speak English (see, no language problem here!). But the possibility of a prisoner teaching one of the warriors English is as far fetched as the monsters.
Now the monsters are just a swarm that eats people so they can feed their Queen (they regurgitate people into her mouth). We would have been horrified or scared even, but you have seen this kind of a thing before in monster films. Piranhas with big teeth, the undead, the zombies are scarier than these creatures. So this film fails in making even half a heartbeat skip. Also, if the creatures are indeed only obeying orders from the Queen (she has a vibrating skin which relays orders, then how do you explain only two creatures in the late night ambush? It seems they tried to get the legend mixed up with Velociraptors who hunt in groups.
The trouble with horror films with creatures is that if the monsters are not scary, then the whole movie fails, even though the director is much celebrated. The white man as saviour too is a much maligned theme and so badly done here that you wonder why Matt Damon would stoop so low to play hero. We liked him as Jason Bourne. The climax at the Forbidden City is so dumb you are glad the creatures eat up all the people. Of course the black powder kills the Queen, but the terrible CGI just makes you gag. If you are a Zhang Yimou fan, or a fan of Matt Damon even, then stay away from this film. It is a huge disappointment.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)