The Great Wall parents guide

The Great Wall Parent Review

Rumored to be the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, this China-US co-production is light on story and very heavy on monster goo.

Overall B

The Great Wall of China is the battleground for this movie that attempts to be as epic as the landmark it is named after. The film stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe, who get swept up in a war between the Chinese and a swarm of dinosaur-like monsters.

Violence D+
Sexual Content A
Profanity B-
Substance Use A

The Great Wall is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence

Movie Review

Going to The Great Wall expecting a vague lesson on Chinese history? There’s a good chance the fortune cookie you cracked open at dinner will have more to say about Asian legends than this movie. I didn’t know what to expect, so when the massive (and I mean MASSSIVE) herd of viscous dinosaur-like creatures came crashing toward the Great Wall of China at about the 15 minute mark, I thought I’d drifted off to sleep and was having one of those “too much pizza before bed” dreams.

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In that quarter hour prior to the CGI invasion, Matt Damon plays it straight as William, a mercenary fighter who, along with his companion Tovar (Pedro Pascal), is looking for a supply of a mystical Chinese creation sure to be worth some big money back home. It is rumored that black powder exists and can create a fire more ferocious than anyone in Europe has ever seen. However, while on their quest these two have also have a close encounter with a ferocious beast from which they manage to remove a forearm. The gory souvenir proves valuable when these hapless men stumble upon The Great Wall and meet an army populated with the most capable soldiers and weapons imaginable.

Their lives are spared after displaying the dismembered limb and presenting themselves as traders. Still, they are restrained and held captive. And that’s about the time the slimy beasts show up and begin to breach the towering fortress.

The timing couldn’t be any more fortuitous for William and Tovar. General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) quickly recognizes their fighting abilities. Meanwhile William also takes a liking to the beautiful deputy Commander Lin (Jing Tian), causing him to rethink the initial plan to get a sack of black powder and hit the dusty trail. Tovar, on the other hand, stays focused on the prize. With the help of Ballard (Willem Dafoe), another westerner captured by the Chinese, he plans to escape during the next giant lizard battle.

Rumored to be the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, this China-US co-production is light on story and very heavy on monster goo. These carnivores bleed green and, according to the unwritten movie violence rulebook, that means there are no reasons why they can’t be sliced, diced, gored, quartered and blown to bits (that’s where the black powder comes in). The ravenous creatures get a taste of Chinese as well, when they devoir many of the opposing warriors, but these encounters are not shown in explicit detail.

All this hash and mash is somewhat mitigated by tongue-in-cheek humor (the westerners get all the funny lines) yet it will still present some nightmarish images for pre-teens. Other possibly objectionable content is limited to a few mild profanities.

It’s reasonable to assume this production is constructed to make its way past China’s other Great Wall. Only a select few western movies are allowed distribution in the country and certainly having a cast of domestic A-listers playing the intelligent, serious heroes will go far to putting this film on China’s marquees. This is in keeping with the script’s messages of working together to overcome an even greater enemy. Strategic marketing aside, with a big enough bucket of popcorn there’s a reasonable chance you’ll get through this and have some fun with your teens too.

Directed by Yimou Zhang. Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe . Running time: 104 minutes. Theatrical release February 17, 2017. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Great Wall here.

The Great Wall Parents Guide

How is this film engineered to win the approval of China’s state regulators who only allow a limited number of foreign movies into the country each year? Can you think of other films that are crafted to fit a government or social agenda?