Welcome to the future of blockbuster movies.
Legendary Pictures was started as a major funding partner for studios, with an aggressive creative team of their own onboard, and over the years, I”ve talked to Thomas Tull repeatedly about his goals and his work. Tull has stayed very true to the earliest vision of what Legendary should be, and he genuinely seems to be driven by his own interests as a fan. He didn”t get interested in Batman and Superman because Warner needed someone to pay for their films; he specifically asked to be involved in those films because he adores them. Same thing with Godzilla. Same thing with Pacific Rim. These are things that hit Tull dead center in his nerd pleasure center, and he throws his support behind them because he wants to see them given all the resources possible.
Legendary is now heavily involved with Chinese money, and as a result, Chinese content is something that became very important to them. Hell, it”s important to any of the studios right now, and when Sony hears that Ghostbusters won”t play in China at all because of their attitudes about the supernatural, that has to hurt on a business level. Everyone wants to get a Chinese release. It can be a significant part of the worldwide returns on a film these days, and in many cases now, we”re getting sequels to films because they did well in China and nowhere else. It”s amazing how big a power shift that is when you”re dealing with studios chasing broad appeal crossover success, and how quickly we”re seeing it play out.
In the case of The Great Wall, they”ve been trying to make this film for a while now. Zhang Yimou is about as best-case-scenario a Chinese director as Legendary could have hoped for, and it”ll be interesting to see him apply his gorgeous sense of Chinese iconography to the sort of big-blockbuster-action studio model that Legendary trusts. The idea that there”s some long-forgotten story about monsters and the construction of the Great Wall is a great hook for a big action film, and I”m sure there will come a day when this kind of film will be made at this same kind of price-tag and there will actually be an all-Asian cast in this all-Asian story.
Until that day, Matt Damon”s front and center here, and that”s such an incongruously white guy to be commanding the Chinese army here that I just had to laugh and accept it. That”s really all you can do. Either you buy in with that as part of the film, or you”re not going to enjoy anything about this film.
For now, I”m excited by the idea that we”re going to start seeing some of our best Asian filmmakers telling their own stories on a scale that has been reserved before now for American mainstream studio fare. What do you think of this trailer, which is one of the craziest pitches for any blockbuster I”ve seen this year?
The Great Wall is in American theaters on February 17, 2017.