The Great Wall: is the Matt Damon epic set to be 2017's biggest turkey?

Matt Damon The Great Wall
Bombs away: Matt Damon in The Great Wall

Matt Damon's The Great Wall made our film critic want to bang his head against one, and it doesn't appear to be wooing cinema audiences either. After truly terrible reviews, the historical monster movie based around the Great Wall of China is set for a disastrous opening weekend at the US box office. 

But unlike other fantasy epics that bombed in Western cinemas but cleaned up at the Chinese box office (including Warcraft, Pacific Rim and Terminator: Genisys), it isn't currently setting Chinese earnings on fire either, despite its setting and subject matter. 

The $135 million US/China co-production is the most expensive film to be entirely shot in China, and represents the latest commercially-driven attempt to forge cross-cultural international movie relations, with a major American star transplanted into a Chinese story and surrounded by a supporting cast of Chinese superstars, all in the hopes of making bank not only in the US and Europe, but in the burgeoning Chinese market.

Last year Deadline reported that the country has overtaken the US in number of cinema screens, as well as in annual box office earnings.

Matt Damon in The Great Wall

Hollywood has been dabbling in the Chinese market for several years, shoehorning in sudden travel detours to the country in the likes of Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Martian, while Iron Man 3 had its very own 'China cut', with scenes featuring local talent that were removed from the film if you saw it anywhere else.

But while The Great Wall seemed like a promising venture on paper, it's not turning out that way. In December, the film opened with a smashing $66 million in its first weekend in Chinese release, but it quickly crumbled in the face of poor word-of-mouth and cringeing at its cliched depiction of Chinese culture. In its second week in cinemas, The Great Wall's earnings fell by 61 per cent.

US box office projections for this weekend are pretty dismal: it'll be lucky to make $17 million, with box office savants believing it'll be easily trounced by an Ice Cube comedy and a second weekend of Keanu Reeves shooting things.

Even worse for the beleaguered project are its reviews, critics comparing it to everything from a particularly low-rent video game to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. While studios look to potentially re-evaluate the newfound US/China special relationship, check out some of the harshest review quotes below...

 

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

The whole thing plays out as if it had been thought up by someone who, while watching Game of Thrones and smoking a bowl, started riffing on walls, China and production money.

 

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

The Great Wall is poised to take a great fall, creating the kind of mess not seen since Humpty Dumpty sat on a similar structure. All the king's horses and all the king's men (and there are a lot of them here) won't be able to put this snore of a movie together again.

 

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly:

The Great Wall looks like it could be a really amazing video game. Alas, it’s a movie, and kind of a brick.

 

Stephen Whitty, NY Daily News:

I’m sure someone thought stranding Damon in China was a wild idea, but onscreen it plays like the worst Jimmy Kimmel joke ever. What’s next, Mark Wahlberg as a South Boston samurai? Really, American stars should just leave parts like this to the Hemsworth brothers.

 

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times:

Damon plays William, a mercenary who has fought “for many flags” in his blood-spattered life. (William has a strange accent. He kinda sounds like a Quaker, even though I’m pretty sure they didn’t have Crazy Fighting Quakers in the year 1000-ish.)

 

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club:

Zhang, who is best known in this country for the eye-catching martial arts films Hero and House Of Flying Daggers, couldn’t care less about these burbling monsters, and his human characters come a distant second at best. His interests lie in the Olympic pageantry of spears, signal flags, and color-coded military regiments, and the cogwheels and lantern gears that drive wondrous war machines... Think of the result as The 13th Warrior as remade by Leni Riefenstahl.

 

Brian Truitt, USA Today:

There’s goofy campiness in its silly premise, yet apart from a bit of buddy comedy between Damon and Pascal, it’s played fairly straight — an odd choice, considering that the Nameless Order’s top soldiers look like they raided the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers wardrobe department and the army’s female warriors, who take wicked jumps off the top of the wall in battle, are a weirdly giggly bunch.

 

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune:

In 1972, Richard M. Nixon visited the Great Wall of China. "I think that you would have to conclude," he said in his remarks, "that this is a great wall." In the Nixonian spirit, let's discuss director Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall. Watching it, you would have to conclude that this is a movie.

 

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