Director: Duncan Jones.
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper,Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu.
Boy, there sure are some ugly actors in this film.
THE great soothsayers of Hollywood predicted that a hoodoo would be lifted this year.
They spoke of a time in 2016 when the curse of the video game movie would be lifted, and critics and gamers could finally be as one in enjoying a film that had sprung from console or computer.
The prophets pointed to two great white hopes to banish the hex – Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed.
Sadly, Warcraft is not the cinematic saviour the gamer brigade hoped it would be. While it scrapes by as “okay” in my book, very few critics are treating it even that kindly.
The film is based on the franchise that began in 1994 as a real-time strategy game but has grown into a massive empire of online gaming, novels, comics and more.
This cinematic adaptation finds the fantasy realm of Azeroth on the brink of war – a horde of orcs driven by an evil magic has arrived in the lands of the humans, and they haven’t come by to borrow a cup of sugar.
On the human side is the bold but weary knight Anduin Lothar (played by Aussie Fimmel), lapsed mage Khadgar (Schnetzer), the supposedly all-powerful Guardian (Foster) and a rather underwhelming king (Cooper).
On the orcish side is Durotan (brought to life by a motion-captured Kebbell and a small army of computer wizards), who is unsure whether their magic-wielding leader Gul’dan (Wu) is all he’s cracked up to be.
And caught in the middle is Garona (Patton), a half-human, half-orc, who looks exactly like an attractive human woman but with pointy ears, fangs and a greenish tinge.
Warcraft is visually impressive – downright stunning in places, in fact – and its digital characters look amazing. Several of the orcs are even better actors and evoke more empathy than their human counterparts.
But at its heart, Warcraft is a confused film. Like so many movies these days, it suffers from franchise-itis (franchitis?) – it’s even ambitiously subtitled The Beginning in some territories. It has one eye on what’s going on, but the other eye is already looking for the next movie, and the one after that. It’s fine to sprinkle hints of what comes next throughout – à la the Marvel Cinematic Universe – but the trick is to make sure each movie is a good self-contained movie in the first place.
Warcraft leaves a number of major plots dangling (and ends one way too abruptly) in the hopes of bringing everyone back for Part 2, but forgets to give the audience a satisfactory conclusion or real sense of resolution.
It can’t avoid the video game movie curse (and there are plenty of references to the games), but it does its best to try and avoid the “all fantasy worlds are the same” curse. It breaks some tropes (not all orcs evil) and its magic system is cool (if very computer-gamey), and it has some nice ideas, all the while avoiding any prophecies, lost kings, or chosen ones.
Unfortunately Azeroth comes across as an unlived-in world – it feels fake and intangible. As much as Warcraft wants to be the next Lord Of The Rings, it lacks the immersive qualities of the world Peter Jackson created from Tolkien’s novels. As a result, we never really get a sense of the peril Azeroth is supposedly in – the danger always seems distant.
The characters are a mixed bag too. Durotan and his offsider Ogrim (Kazinksy) have intriguing arcs and complexities, while Anduin and Khadgar have their moments, even if their banter doesn’t quite click (much of the humour is hit and miss). But Foster is oddly off-the-mark in a role that could’ve been the most memorable of the film, and Patton gets the short end of the stick with a poorly written character that seems to have been forced into the script to give teenage boys something to ogle. The film’s ending almost redeems her, but not quite.
It’s unfortunate that the film only really sings when it’s throwing its pixels around. A couple of orc-on-orc battles are enjoyably savage, and the big melees are a highlight.
Warcraft is not a total disaster and certainly looks a million bucks (or $160 million to be precise) but misses the mark as much as it hits it. For every cool moment, a dumb one follows, there are as many great characters as naff ones, and the good ideas are hamstrung by a lack of tension and a holographic setting.
The curse of the video game movie continues.