Film Review: Warcraft

This fantasy epic is made with love. If only it were made with quality, too.
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Warcraft director Duncan Jones has been vocal about how much he loves the videogame franchise on which his latest movie is based. Even before taking the reins of the film, he was a big fan of the series, which lets players interact with one another in a high-fantasy world as warriors, warlocks, orcs and the like. Jones’ love of the source material comes through in the film, which he also co-wrote. Which is why watching Warcraft is sort of like seeing a father accidentally kill his child by leaving it in a hot car.

It’s bad, is what I’m saying. And also a little depressing.

From the vast catalog of World of Warcraft lore, Jones chose a first-contact story between humans and orcs, a warrior race from a different dimension who come into the human world of Azeroth (also inhabited by dwarves and elves, rarely seen here) after their own is rendered uninhabitable by a dark magic known as the Fell. Our primary point of entry among the orcs is the noble clan chieftain Durotan (a mo-capped Toby Kebbell), who thinks maybe they should all stop roiding themselves out on the Fell if it turns them into big green rage monsters and renders anywhere they settle a desolate wasteland. His human counterpart is warrior Anduin Lothar, played by “Vikings” star Travis Fimmel, whose presence can best be described as “Chris Hemsworth, but cheaper and constantly stoned.”

A lot of other characters are thrown into the mix, most notably orc warlord Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), warrior and protector of Azeroth Medivh (Ben Foster), human king Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), wide-eyed wizard-in-training Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and half-orc Garona (Paula Patton). All of them are swallowed up in a sprawling, incoherent story that was aiming for “epic” but landed on “incoherent mess” instead.

What Jones is missing is a sense of fun and lightheartedness. The story of Warcraft is fairly boilerplate fantasy stuff. That’s fine in a videogame, where players bring their own emotion and effort—their own selves—into helping form the story. In a movie, you need more, and Jones doesn’t deliver. It’s abundantly clear that he’s heavily emotionally invested in the story he’s telling, because Warcraft is so, so earnest about it—there’s a scene where a character is honest-to-God set up as the Moses of orcs. To people who don’t already care about the orc-human conflict, Warcraft is so self-serious as to be ridiculous. Ben Foster, in particular, appears almost visually embarrassed to be onscreen. (It’s not quite as bad as Jamie Dornan in 50 Shades of Grey, but you can see the regret behind his eyes.)

The pacing is all over the place, the plot twists are obvious, the characters are generic. The mo-capped orcs, though realistic-looking in their own right (for values of  “realistic” that include fictional races), still have a somewhat plastic quality next to the humans; a movie with just the orcs would have looked stunning, but add in homo sapiens and there’s a slight, niggling visual disconnect. But the most egregious error has to be in Jones bringing us right up to the precipice of a huge moment, something the entire movie has been leading up to…and then stopping, giving us a “to be continued” instead. Have we learned nothing from The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Don’t make a movie that’s mostly set up for a sequel if you don’t know that sequel’s going to happen! Tell a complete, compelling story, and then, if people want to see more of that world, you make another movie. Tell half a story, and you risk only being able to tell half a story. And something tells me Jones is never going to get the chance to pick up all those plot threads he left unfinished.

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