There is an alternate timeline wherein the image of a large wall keeping monsters at bay might not be soured by notions of contemporary xenophobia; where Matt Damon didn’t white-mansplain diversity to a successful black female producer before appearing as the bankable white face in an otherwise predominantly Chinese-cast blockbuster. In that time and place, maybe Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall feels like a better film. Although even here and now it succeeds a bit more than it should. The Hollywood-infused epic fantasy plays like Warcraft meets The Last Samurai by way of Zack Snyder — but shockingly better than all that sounds.
A large portion of the film’s moderate success is born from its narrative efficiency. Clocking in at 103 minutes, it moves from set piece to set piece with a nimble pace often absent from even the best epic swashbucklers. We’re introduced to Damon’s unkempt William Garin in flight......