Outrage culture means well. When the Internet pounces on, say, the white casts playing Egyptian characters in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” or “Gods of Egypt,” it’s sending a message to not do this again — even though we all know they will anyway. But sometimes outrage culture is simply wrong. Sometimes its proponents don’t have all the facts. Sometimes they’re operating on erroneous assumptions. And you know what happens when you assume: you make an ass of yourself and a $150 million movie.
Such is the case with “The Great Wall.” When the first ads came out, touting Matt Damon’s name and bod over a vision of Ancient China, it made it look like America was doing more than nicking the Great Wall itself for our Mexican border. Constance Wu, of “Fresh Off the Boat,” tweeted that it perpetuated a “white savior” myth. She unleashed a hellfire of outrage posts (just Google them; there's too many), which presumed Damon would come to the rescue of the lowly Chinese — or you know, whatever the film is about. No one really bothered with specifics.
They should have because it turns out “The Great Wall” isn’t another tale of non-white Americans being saved by a white American. For one thing, it’s not a historical saga; it’s a big monster movie — essentially “Starship Troopers” circa the Song dynasty. And Damon’s character isn’t some hero who comes in to save them. He’s an ex-soldier, rogue and thief, in the wrong place at the wrong time. He reluctantly joins forces with them and only comes around by the ridiculously awesome hot air balloon climax.
Not that they need him. Its portrayal of the Chinese army borders on nationalism. They have hordes upon hordes of capable soldiers, the individual subsumed into the collective. They have first-rate weaponry. They have super-explosive black powder and “screaming arrows,” for when someone needs to do hand-to-paw combat in thick fog. Soldiers bungee cord off the wall and slaughter beasties with their steel. They got this. Damon’s character merely helps out. He’s absorbed into the culture, not leading it. He doesn’t even [SPOILER] save the day; that duty goes to Tian Jing’s fiery, capable, badass commander.
That the many posting irate pieces about “The Great Wall”’s alleged insensitivity didn’t know this isn’t entirely their fault; the ad team fumbled this but good. (Some of us didn’t even know this was a monster movie till five minutes into our screening.) Still, they could have done a little research — or even waited to see the movie.