Film Review: 'Warcraft'
Azeroth, a land filled with mythical beasts and spellbinding magic, is the rich tapestry upon which we bear witness to an epic clash of humans and orcs, the likes of which have been feuding since the dawn of time. It's shimmering swords versus gigantic hammers, and gleaming armor versus battle-scarred bodies in a fight to save their respective peoples from certain death. Warcraft gives a showdown for the ages, and it is the ultimate catharsis for the passionate fan base of the wildly popular online game.
Yet given the fantastic grandeur, Warcraft ironically falls flat.
You might think that the fantasy that writer/director Duncan Jones (Moon) has put together would be the perfect cinematic world to get completely immersed in - he even tries to reinvent the fantasy genre by making neither side of the war truly good, nor truly evil. Thus, there are heroes among both the humans and the orcs: for the humans, it's Commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), a fierce warrior, and the young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) who unite to combat the brutish, hulking invaders from another world; for the orcs, it's the noble chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) who travels through a portal along with the orcs en masse, led by Gul-dan (Daniel Wu), a mysterious and powerful sorcerer of dark magic. Durotan's wife, Draka (Anna Galvin), bears a son, and so Durotan would rather see a world of peace for his new family - although the overwhelmingly majority of his kind would rather see the humans exterminated.
Azeroth may be an incredible world, but the movie is filled with so much universe-specific lingo - not to mention its cavalcade of characters and motivations - that it's irreparably impossible to navigate. Not surprisingly, the movie as a whole suffers and it becomes incredibly difficult to care about Durotan, Lothar and company when you can't even tell up from down. It's a failure of the real challenge Jones had in this movie, which was to make a complex, rich universe accessible to a more general audience - Guardians of the Galaxy had the same task, yet became a cultural phenomenon despite being one of Marvel's lesser-known properties.
To his credit, Jones gives a spirited effort in that challenge; knowing where his cinematic influences and inspirations lie, he puts them to good use. The visual effects and motion-capture technology used to bring the orcs to life is as impressive as the technical arsenal James Cameron had in making Avatar. Jones has a special attention to detail when it comes to practical effects, almost like the attentiveness that Peter Jackson had when building The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And to come full circle, the half-human, half-orc character Garona (Paula Patton), with her wartime savvy and utility to both sides of the war, is undoubtedly inspired by Guardians' green-skinned heroine Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Even their names sound alike.
Jones is fiercely committed to creating an enveloping and breathtaking Azeroth, and is mostly successful in that he has crafted one of 2016's most technically impressive movies yet. But in spite of his pious devotion to visual effects and universe-building sequences, Warcraft's overly complex and severely lacking screenplay sputters right out of the gate, confirming the old adage that a good screenplay is the foundation to a good movie. And while it's commendable that Jones and his co-writer Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) deviate from the tired "all bad guys must die" setup, it's important to remember it's the filmmakers who know the rules best that can effectively break them.
Rated PG-13. 123 minutes.
Written by Duncan Jones & Charles Leavitt (screenplay) and Chris Metzen (story and characters).
Directed by Duncan Jones.
Starring Toby Kebbell, Travis Fimmel, and Paula Patton.