‘The Great Wall’ will keep you guessing — but not in a good way

Matt Damon in “The Great Wall.”
Matt Damon in “The Great Wall.” TNS

What It’s About: A dreary action-adventure overloaded with repetitious computer graphic images, “The Great Wall” is a mess of missteps.

Of course, China’s Great Wall is impressive — one of the Seven Wonders of the World — but it’s the backdrop for a ridiculous story that never gels.

In this disjointed medieval epic, Matt Damon is a mercenary English (Irish?) warrior in search of gunpowder. To save his hide, he helps a big army fight weird, grotesque beasts — lizard-dinosaur creatures that look like a prototype for the original “Alien.” There is mumbo-jumbo about a meteor. What?

The story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz uses fantasy elements, based on a legend, but this mash-up of genres feels like one of those cheesy “Hercules” movies we watched on Sunday afternoon TV years ago.

The script by three screenwriters — Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy — is monosyllabic. While aiming for an international audience, they have written a generic, one-size-fits-all film that does a disservice to ancient Chinese lore.

Performances: Wearing a man-bun and affecting a strange accent that he eventually abandons, Matt Damon is a disappointment as William. Not every actor can hit it out of the park every movie, but this is a genuine letdown, given his track record and stature.

They attempt to build a Butch-and-Sundance-style relationship between William and his sidekick Ballard (Pedro Pascal), but it doesn’t work, as the attempts at humor fall flat.

Jing Tian is fine as the young Commander Lin Mae, but is the character believable?

What Works: In the first joint film product between United States and China, the cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh and Zhao Xiaoding is sweeping and majestic. The string-laden score by Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones”) is solid.

What Doesn’t Work: For all the efforts, the film is a bunch of noise. The lackluster plot is full of holes and doesn’t engage.

“The Great Wall”

  • Stars:
  • Director: Zhang Yimou
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe
  • Rated: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence
  • Length: 104 minutes