We’re pretty used to bombastic movie trailers: Hero X does this, Threat Y presents itself as that, fight fight fight, and then wrap it up with a pithy one-liner that leaves The Kids™ wanting more. We’re rarely surprised, though, because a formulaic trailer is typically selling a formulaic movie.
That’s why we were so excited to finally get a look at the upcoming Matt Damon film The Great Wall. On one hand, it’s a Hollywood blockbuster with a major star and lots of action and visual effects. On the other, it’s a massive Hollywood / Chinese co-production made by a renowned international filmmaker with dynamic aesthetic sensibilities. We can’t stop talking about it, but we do have a few questions…
Why does this trailer begin with a mini-trailer for the trailer?
Who made this, anyway?
From the people that just bought Vizio
It’s directed by legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou. (After you’re done here, go watch Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Trust us.) But the studios are equally as interesting: Legendary Pictures is behind The Dark Knight trilogy and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, and Le Vision Pictures is the movie studio arm of LeEco — the company that just bought Vizio for $2 billion. And this is just the beginning: Le Vision alone has a slate of 20 English-language films it’s working on.
Is this the beginning of an awesome relationship between Hollywood and Chinese studios?
Numerous American films have already benefited from Chinese investment, from Marvel’s superheroes to teen comedies like 21 & Over, which shot a separate ending specifically for Chinese moviegoers. But The Great Wall looks like the first film that’s comparable to summer epic, featuring a global celebrity gulping from a bottomless mug of special effects. There’s so much promise to international collaborations, which provide an alternative to the standard Hollywood action movie formula of US vs. the world. Already The Great Wall stands out for the use of bright colors other than teal and orange.
Is Matt Damon sad he’s not in Game of Thrones or something?
Matt Damon’s been able to play some pretty cool characters in his career: Jason Bourne, the guy that got rescued in The Martian, Will "How do you like them apples" Hunting. You think he'd be pretty happy. But here he seems to be doing his best to act like he's in some weird Thrones reboot as we walks through mist, fights flying creatures, and sports some serious Jon Snow hair. Is he a fan, or just mad they cast a lookalike back in the first season? We need to know.
Is Matt Damon diegetically Chinese?
Obviously Matt Damon himself isn't Chinese, and by now we understand that trans-racial stage makeup is horrible. But where does his character fit into the history of China? Maybe the character is Chinese. Maybe the character is a "wandering stranger" archetype. Maybe this a movie about flying demons attacking the Great of Wall of China, and it won't bother explaining why this older white man stopped by to fight stuff.
Wait, is that Oberyn Martell?
IMDb confirms that the film features Pedro Pascal, the actor who played Oberyn in Game of Thrones. While we’re on his page, can we talk about what an interesting slate of gigs Pascal has lined up? The video game Dishonored 2, the second season of Narcos on Netflix, The Great Wall, the sequel to The Kingsman, and a show called God’s Equation, which has this juicy logline: "Seven remote places of USA, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Brazil might be the center of an extraterrestrial experiment."
When does this movie take place?
The Great Wall is taking place during the Northern Song Dynasty, a particularly vibrant time in China’s history. The country was a unified whole for the first time in more than half a century, following the fall of the Tang Dynasty and the period of unrest that followed. Societyl flourished at the time, with lots of energy devoted to education and entertainment. Women also enjoyed rights and privileges that they weren’t afforded in previous periods. None of the histories make note of anyone resembling Matt Damon, though.
Haven’t I seen that bit where somebody recklessly jumps off a building before?
If you’ve only watched movies like the The Graduate or The Godfather, probably not. But if you’ve seen Warcraft, Man of Steel, or multiple Marvel movies, then yes, you’re familiar with this familiar Hollywood go-to. (You’ve also probably seen a ton of people throw around CG shields, but that wasn’t the question.)
I can’t decide for myself: which is the best armor in this trailer?
We are also torn, but it’s hard to argue with this helmet and vest combo.
Why would you build a wall to defend against dragons?
There are lots of great reasons to build a wall around your country — not in a Trumpian way! — but they’re generally focused on land-based threats. Mongols, etc. "Can’t dragons just fly over the wall?" you rightfully ask. Archers and musketeers help a little bit, but why not just build a series of towers? If your problem is dragons, an enormous stone wall seems like not the best response.
Is the plan to battle demons with very large horns?
Doubtful. The earliest gun-powdered propelled rockets date back to the 15th century, when they were invented in the area of Song, China. The Great Wall of China predates the discovery of rockets by many centuries, but it’s possible that, for the sake of action, the film may not be especially loyal to reality. That said, there is the chance that these are horns, so if you’ve been waiting for a big budget spectacle that featured appropriately grand horns, don’t consider your hopes dashed just yet.
Was the Great Wall of China really built to fend off flying demon beasts?
No. The Great Wall of China was built to defend the northern borders from nomadic enemies. The specific reasons for defense changed through its construction, as it was built in pieces by different leaders in different times, but there’s no evidence the Great Wall was meant to stave off flying demons, notably because flying demons aren’t real.
Okay, then! What’s stopping Hollywood from doing this with other historical sites?
If The Great Wall is a hit, nothing! We’re personally looking forward to the movie about the robotic giants who don the faces of US presidents to fight evil, before retiring to their secret base in South Dakota. And the one about how the Eiffel Tower is a steampunk spacecraft that can travel to alternate dimensions. (Oh, wait. That was Tomorrowland.)
What does it mean to be born into battle?
Good question! The Killers made an album about this, but unfortunately the lyrics serve as a poor critical tool. It probably means he was born with an axe in his hand, kind of like an ancient John Henry.
Is a war against ancient dragon demons the first war worth fighting for?
It’s hard to say, as historically there have been a lot of wars. But probably any war against a demon is a war worth fighting.
Why is the movie in English if it takes place in China?
For the same reason Matt Damon is there: to make this film easier to market to American and other primarily English-speaking audiences. The US and China are two of the biggest forces at the box office, so increasingly, movie studios are trying to tick off boxes on big budget films that’ll let them appeal to moviegoers in different countries.
Has Matt Damon ever acted with a wall before?
Yes. Here he is with his back against a wall in The Departed:
And here his back is against the metaphorical wall in The Martian:
And here he is walking beside a wall in The Bourne Identity
Wait, isn’t that a train?
Oh. Our bad.