Thursday, September 29, 2016

What the "Warcraft"?

I am sorry to report that "Warcraft," directed by Duncan Jones, and based off the series of "Warcraft" games from Blizzard Entertainment, is not the first great video game movie that some have been hoping for. It's not bad, though. It's actually quite watchable in a silly '80s B-movie way, that's going to appeal to some viewers much more than others.

Exactly how much appeal it has is going to depend on how much you buy into the "Warcraft" universe. We start straight off with the orcs, a race of warlike brutes who create a portal from their dying world into a Middle Earth-like fantasy land called Azeroth, with the use of evil green "fel magic." The evil orc warlock Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) leads a small scouting force into Azeroth to pave the way for the rest. Among them is a noble chieftain named Durotan (Toby Kebbell), and his pregnant mate Draka (Ann Galvin). The orcs land in the Stormwind Kingdom, populated by humans. Our primary heroes are King Llane (Dominic Cooper), the brave commander of his forces, Lothar (Travis Fimmel), and a young mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). Also in the mix are a half-orc, half human slave, Garona (Paula Patton), a powerful wizard, Medivh (Ben Foster), Ruth Negga playing the Queen of Strormwind, and Robert Kazinsky and Clancy Brown as other orcs.

A lot of care and attention was given to the orcs' side of the story, which is much more compelling and easier to follow than anything going on with the human beings. Frankly, anything not involving the orcs tends to come across like an episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess" with a bigger budget. I appreciate that the filmmakers went into this movie with the best of intentions to do the franchise justice. No snark or puns here to ruin the mood. However, when you've got such obvious tropes like the callow young mage, the troubled older wizard, the noble king, and the persecuted half-breed, and the script is trying to set up way too much mythology in a short span of time, it all gets tedious very quickly. It doesn't help that the violence is mostly bloodless, the characters are uniformly flat, and the visuals are, frankly, a little goofy. They've essentially reproduced the aesthetic of all those Dungeons and Dragons style roleplaying games of the '90s and 2000s, which "Warcraft" drew inspiration from. Props for faithfulness, but the clunky armor and color-coded magic energy blasts make the proceedings look terribly juvenile.

The cast has quite a few actors that I like - Ben Foster, Ruth Negga, Paula Patton, Daniel Wu, Dominic Cooper and more. However, they're all stuck playing very dull, one-dimensional characters who have to go through the motions of a very, very generic swords and sorcery plot. This is the kind of thing that can be fine with stronger, more charismatic leads, but there's almost no character development in "Warcraft" aside from a few bits of hurriedly relayed of backstory when the action slows down. While I'm thankful that there was no designated comic relief characters, surely there was room for some humor, or at least some wry quipping? Out of all the leads, I think Paula Patton's Gavrona comes off the best, because at least she has some culture shock to play with. Also, Toby Kebbell turns in another strong motion-capture performance, giving Durotan enough likeability to be sympathetic, despite his fangs and claws.

I left the movie wondering who the best audience for "Warcraft" would be. I count myself as a fantasy fan, but this was too silly for my tastes. Existing fans of the game would certainly enjoy it. Probably younger fantasy fans too - the ones who are looking for more media in the same vein as the "Hobbit" movies, but aren't quite ready for "Game of Thrones." I don't see much that would appeal to older, non-fans though, especially with so much other fantasy-based media to choose from these days. I stress that I don't think that "Warcraft" was a bad movie, and wouldn't even mind sitting through a sequel. However, I question the wisdom of spending so much time, money, and effort on making a film that seems so determined to appeal to such a limited audience.

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