2 hours, 3 minutes
Full disclosure, I’ve never played “World of Warcraft.” Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever played any of these games. I’m always asking my friends, “How do these games work? Is there a whole world that exists out in the internet, where stuff is going on all the time? And you can play people who are in other places? Do you have to know them? What if they kill you?” It’s like I’m ninety, still marveling at a phone I can carry in my pocket. I really am clueless when it comes to video games though, especially these MMOs (massive multi-player online games – I had to look that up). So, the new video game origin story, “Warcraft,” was never aimed squarely at me.
Watching the trailers for this film, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Orcs, Dwarves, Elves and Hu-mans in a battle for survival feels like someone was skimming the Tolkien Cliff Notes and a lightbulb went off. As a result, the plot looked both generic and overly dense. That said, I was particularly im-pressed with the performances of the Orc characters, specifically Toby Kebbell as the heroic clan-leader Durotan. Weirdly small heads and huge hands aside, those involving the Orc characters are the most emotionally impactful and dramatically satisfying scenes of the entire film.
The film opens on the orcs in a world that is dying. The Orc leader, an evil tyrant named Gul’dan, has harnessed a terrible magic called The Fel, and is using it to open a portal between the Orc world and the human world. It is Gul’dan’s intention to create a portal big enough and stable enough to bring through the entire “horde” of Orcs, allowing them to conquer. Durotan, on the other hand, isn’t sure. Orcs like to fight, but Gul’dan sure seems evil and has definitely perpetrated an environmental dis-aster on their world. On the human side, we have the kingdom of Azeroth (I think – or maybe that was the whole planet) ruled by a beloved king who everyone seemed to call by his first name, LLayne. The hu-man side of this movie doesn’t work quite as well as the Orc side, mostly because the characters are not particularly compelling. Our hero is a knight named Anduin, but I never could connect with him. He looked strung out, eyes always red-rimmed and twitchy. He was my least favorite character and he’s on screen at least half the time. Rounding out the humans are several Mages who seem to belong to an ultra-orthodox sect of magicians. The younger has left the faith and the other is the guardian of the entire world. Ben Foster plays the Guardian, and he really seems to be giving it his all, but, like much of the dialogue on the human side of things, he feels out of place. Finally, we have Paula Patton playing a half-orc, half-human Garona. She’s here to fulfill the role that, in a better movie, would be played by Zoe Sal-dana – the sexy, alien, kick-ass warrior chick with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold. Unfortunately, Pat-ton is just not the actress that Saldana is and Garona is not very convincing.
“Warcraft” exists to explain why Orcs and humans fight, and thus takes place several hundred years before the time of the game. As a result, some of the dramatic tension is lost when you know things aren’t going to work out, no matter how hard Durotan wants to save his people and create an alliance with the humans. Still, “Warcraft” did surprise me occasionally, and it does well with the battle scenes. The CGI Orcs are fully integrated and “Warcraft” achieves yet another level of “Wow! How’d they do that?” computer animation, but it’s in the interpersonal stuff that the story stumbles.
If I had to guess, “Warcraft” is cheaper than it looks. For a whole world of humans and Orcs, we only ever get to know four or five individuals, which makes the massive scale of the film seem slightly askew. Also, for all the impressive graphics, much of the action felt like it was set on a soundstage, also limiting that grand scale they were going for.
Some of “Warcraft” works. I liked the “full-immersion” theory of the film, where they just dropped me in the middle of the action and let me catch up. There’s so much exposition in the film any-way, it’s as if the filmmakers just decided there was no time to do a whole bunch of set-up. That’s fine, but I wish the human characters had seemed as fully integrated as the animated ones. Director Duncan Jones saved a buck by using mostly unknown, television actors, but I feel like several weren’t ready for the big screen. On the other hand, Kebbell, as Durotan, is by far the best of the cast, and he’s already an acknowledged master of performance capture, having played Koba in two of the “Planet of the Apes” films. There are several good action sequences, and, despite the fact that it was fairly convoluted, I was into the story. Much of it doesn’t make sense, and it’s hard to determine which stuff is just dumb, like the brief appearance of a demon near the end, and which is just dense storytelling.
I didn’t actively dislike “Warcraft,” which came as a surprise considering my tirade against video game movies after I watched “Angry Birds.” It’s not a great film, by any means, but not because of the video game aspect. It was smart of them not to set their story anywhere near the actual action of the game. No, the movie suffers from much more conventional problems – poor writing and poor casting. Still, “Warcraft” manages to be an entertaining evening out, and that’s certainly worth something. Grade: B-
“Warcraft” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.