Warcraft is a curious, if disparaging, statement on modern studio filmmaking, prophesying that the future of summer, big budget, event films is in dire jeopardy. The film contains well crafted CG effects and fully realized worlds of imagination and splendor. The creativity that is found in the designs and execution of the orcs, creatures and effects found within Warcraft, is astounding. The 3D is rather impressive, which helps greatly since most of the film lives in a computer generated world. However, the dialog and acting is atrocious. The story is even worse. The film is a disaster from its poor casting to its head-scratching motivations to its wooden acting. Often incredibly violent acts randomly occur to many of the main characters exposing that the emotional ties to characters are incredibly weak, even non-existent. The director, Duncan Jones, and his fellow screenwriters, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen, seem to have an idea what they want to achieve with Warcraft, but their efforts to establish the world within the film diminish any effort made to establish the characters inhabiting that world. They do make an effort, but the result is so diluted by missteps aplenty that when a major character is killed (slight spoiler), the event, which should be crushing, is swept aside as if it were only a footnote. And, to that point, this happens more than once. It is quite astonishing how carelessly the movie treats its cast. War is hell, certainly, but Warcraft is boring. And it doesn’t help that Durotan is a faint reminder of Shrek on steroids instead of a unique, intriguing character all his own.
At the beginning of Warcraft’s tale, a horde army of orcs from Draenor follow their leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wui) on a mission to claim Azeroth, the land of humans (and a few other species – i.e., Elves and Dwarves), as their own. The chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), leads his clan during the attack despite his reservations. On the opposing front, a mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and a skilled commander named Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) reluctantly team up to defend Azeroth from the oncoming army. At King Llane Wrynn’s (Dominic Cooper) command, they call upon the guardian of the land, a wise wizard named Madivh (Ben Foster), to assist. As the humans begin to face the Orcs, a captured half-orc named Garona (Paula Patton) begins to expose a conspiracy at the invasion’s core. It seems someone on this side of the portal lead Gul’dan to Azeroth.
The film’s greatest asset is the character and world design, even if the main character Durotan looks familiar. Warcraft has an animated film quality that it capitalizes upon for much of the action, providing the film with a heightened sense of adventure and wonder. Especially impressive is the character Gul’dan who makes for a frightening and impressive villain for the film. His look has a slight Jim Henson quality to its facial features that elevates it above many of the other orcs in the film. His trusted right-hand orc, Blackhand (Clancy Brown), is also well-conceived with a stubborn attachment to orc tradition, giving the film one of its few interesting character developments. But, while it is often easy to tell the main orcs from one another visually, it is often not all that easy to discern their characters other than those who support Gul’dan and those who side with Durotan. A number of subplots surround the orcs from the half-orc Garona to the resurrected child of Durotan and his wife Draka (Anna Galvin), the latter leading to a promise – or threat – of future films.
While the orcs have a few successful elements in making Warcraft an enjoyable film, the human characters go a long way to destroying all hope in it being…good. They are just all so damn dull. Travis Fimmel barely gives Lothar any personality and only in a drunken stupor kind of way. It’s as if he almost winks to the camera in a Jerry Lewis tone suggesting “What the hell am I doing here?” Ben Foster gives cinema its worst wizard character since the schlock-filled heyday of fantasy films from Roger Corman and Charles Band. He comes across as if he’d rather be playing Obi Wan Kenobi than Medivh. It’s a bizarre performance. Ben Schnetzer looks like he is straight out of A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, feeling very out of time in appearance and mannerisms. Dominic Cooper fairs the worst as the lackluster, unimpressive King of Azeroth, Llane Wrynn. He carries not an ounce of regal stature or attitude with his weak body language and whispered dialog. Cooper’s co-star on Preacher, Ruth Negga, appears in Warcraft as his wife Lady Taria and fails to leave a valuable impression. Despite Travis Fimmel’s amusing Lee Horsley inspired performance, the cast of human characters struggle to bring any heart or emotion to the film where it is so desperately needed.
Duncan Jones directs the film with some style and flair when it comes to the action. When things heat up, the film does manage to kick into gear visually. His best scenes are when the orcs engage in Mak’gora where much of the internal conflict between the warring orc tribes bubbles to the surface. He also handles the magic of the film with a strong sense of imagination and wonder. The film lives in its fantasy roots and Jones excels in those specific vistas. Unfortunately, he is far less successful in the more grounded moments of the story. The relationship between Durotan and his wife & child is weak and underdeveloped – and the ending gives the audience the impression that this bond is intended to be the crux of much of the franchise. On the flip side, he also buries the relationship between Lothar and his son who fights along the front lines. A huge moment in the film – facing an orc army – attempts to redeem this mishandling, but it is far too little, far too late.
Warcraft is another lukewarm attempt at forcing a franchise onto the audience instead of building a strong baseline for a series to grow upon naturally. It feels commercial, robbing it of the script’s attempts at emotion and characterization. The film does look fantastic – which will appeal to many, and may even propel the film to find a cult following. The effects and designs are remarkable and the 3D is outstanding, especially compared to many of this summer’s offerings. Unfortunately the cast is overwhelmed by the fantasy elements of the film and any real emotion between characters is lost. Forget any resemblances to character arcs or such nonsense. The film reaches for a number of tones usually coming across way to serious for the context of the story, often bouncing from comedy to dark, bloody acts of violence. The film never finds its own identity outside of its visual prowess. Warcraft blunders onto the big screen, carelessly spins about and lands with a loud and uneventful thud.
Warcraft (2 / 5)