A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Great Wall is a fantasy action film set in medieval China starring Matt Damon. Violence is the main issue here; there's tons of peril and many battles, including sword fights, arrows piercing bodies, explosions, and more. Plus, many of the fights involve scary monsters (which have green blood), which wreak havoc and sometimes eat people. There's also a very little bit of swearing ("hell," "bastard," "bitch") and a bit of romantic tension between main characters. Speaking of the main characters, one is a strong, brave, principled female leader. While the film sparked controversy for casting a white actor in a story about China, the good news is that, for the most part, the movie avoids stereotyping; if anything, the white characters are portrayed as barbaric, while the Chinese are depicted as refined and honorable.
What's the story?
William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are 15th-century mercenaries who find themselves stymied during their travels by a massive wall -- in fact, it's THE GREAT WALL. Chinese military leaders, especially gifted Commander Lin (Tian Jing), are suspicious of the pair's motives, but when they're all threatened by otherworldly creatures known as the tao tei, William joins in his captors' monumental battle against the monsters. Nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake.
Is it any good?
A hybrid between a historical epic and an action fantasy, the film manages to be only a passable example of each genre, which makes it less memorable than it had the potential to be. Damon serves up a dignified performance, if you ignore his dubious accent (a mushed-up concoction meant to recall an Irishman by way of America, perhaps?). Whether his bromance with partner-in-crime Pascal needed to be in the mix is yet another iffy decision, confusing the genre dilemma even further.
That said, The Great Wall has its merits, starting with the cinematography. Setting aside the over-CGI-ed monsters, the titular wall is a sight to behold. A scene in which soldiers throw hundreds of lanterns aloft is simply breathtaking. And then there's the fearless female commander, Lin. She may not have much depth, character-wise, but seeing her take command -- and sharing the story's spotlight with William -- is a breath of fresh air.
Talk to your kids about ...
The movie drew some controversy for having a white American actor at the heart of a story steeped in Chinese history. Why would that be controversial?
Had you ever heard anything about this part of Chinese mythology and history before? How could you find out more if you wanted to?
- In theaters: February 17, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 23, 2017
- Cast: Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal
- Director: Zhang Yimou
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, History
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of fantasy action violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.