Bringing in Matt Damon to be the big American star in the Zhang Yimou-directed fantasy historical epic “The Great Wall” seemed like a good idea at the time. Despite grousing by some social justice warriors that a white character had no business being in a movie set in medieval China, Damon is one of the hottest stars in Hollywood, thanks to his appearing in hit films like “The Martian.” But it looks like “The Great Wall” is a bust in North America. It is a hit in China, which means that the movie will still make money.

Part of the reason “The Great Wall” bombed in the West is, according to Mashable, that aside from the martial arts set pieces along a strange version of the Great Wall of China is that there is no there there. Matt Damon’s European mercenary character is heroic. All of the Chinese characters are heroic. The monsters who pour out of the Asian steppes hell bent for leather to destroy the world, starting with the Middle Kingdom, are – well – monstrous. But the movie, by all accounts, has no heart to it.

Damon’s character is a mercenary from Ireland, it is said, but for some reason named William, a name more common with Normandy than with the Emerald Ilse. He is said to be in China on a mission to steal gunpowder, which would indeed constitute an advantage in European wars. On the other hand, all he would have to do is to learn how to read Chinese script and learn the formula. No need for cloak and dagger.

Zhang could have profited by learning a little bit of medieval European history or at least having an adviser during the development of the film. He might have also thought more of William’s backstory while working on the script. Why is he in China? More opportunities existed for a sword jock to make money in Europe than to take the years-long journey to China to find out about black powder. Apparently, he was running from something to go all the way across the world.

But what? Or who?

The problem of an underdeveloped character is graver than the made up controversy of ”whitewashing.” The character was always supposed to be European so the accusation, silly in any case, does not fit. The problem was, whatever the ethnic background of the character, he was not just that interesting.

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