I saw this movie a few weekends ago. The minute my brother-in-law told me all the critics hated it, I knew I had to go. I had already thought the trailer looked cool, and nothing will drive me to the movies faster than knowing the critics don't like it, because whatever they're looking for in a movie usually isn't what I'm looking for. And this movie seemed right up my alley.
A sci fi/fantasy tale set in Medieval China? Bring it on!
And sure enough, I enjoyed it immensely. Is it a good movie? Probably not, but "good" is a relative term. The movie is loads of fun for someone like me who loves the combination of a buddy movie, action, and beauty.
The basic plot concerns some European mercenaries heading east to try to obtain black powder (gunpowder) to take home and sell for a fortune. But their timing couldn't be worse, and they end up prisoners of the Chinese right at the time when hordes of legendary alien creatures are about to attack. The Great Wall has been built to keep them out. The mercenaries prove their worth in battle against the monsters, but the monsters are smarter than everyone thinks and find a way to circumvent the wall. Then it's basically a fight to implement a crazy plan to defeat them.
Hordes of nasty things are one of my sweet spot map items. I have written at least three short stories (two of them published) that feature immense vast quantities of nasty creatures. It's something I come back to again and again. So, regardless of anything else in this movie, I would have loved that. I like these creatures too. Kinda creepy, kinda cool... will tear you apart in a heartbeat and are pretty unstoppable. They communicate with sound, and I really liked the sound effects on them.
The cast was fun. I'm not particularly a Matt Damon fan, but he's always so nice that it's impossible not to like him. Pedro Pascal, however, I do love, and he was delightful. The two of the together made this into a rather delightful buddy film, and their dialogue made me laugh a lot. They banter, defend each other, argue, and save each other with great enthusiasm. The end of the movie was just perfect and made me very happy.
I enjoyed the rest of the cast as well. Willem Dafoe skulks about being shifty. Tian Jing is beautiful and resourceful as Commander Lin Mae. Hanyu Zhang as General Shao was rapidly heading towards being my second favorite character, but he didn't last long enough. Sigh. Everyone else was well-suited to the movie and I enjoyed their performances.
And beauty... something I really have learned I require in a movie. And this movie was unexpectedly beautiful. The scene early on where the various ranks of the army pour out onto the wall to take their positions, each group in their own vivdly colored armor made me ooooooh with delight and just wish I could pause the movie to soak in all the color. The Chinese army in this movie might be the most beautifully armored army of all time. Those colors are exquisite. This movie was filmed on location as well, which always helps. The scenery was beautiful, and in some cases, breathtaking.
There was little or no bad language (that I recall), no romance, and the violence was not particularly graphic, which I appreciated. My favorite action sequence might be the one with the fog and screaming arrows, because that was just too cool. I really wanted to see it a second time in the theater, but unfortunately, it's already gone, so I'll need to wait for the DVD at this point.