Warcraft (12A) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Duncan Jones, US, 2016, 123 mins

Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell

Warcraft has so much stacked against it from the pushing of the standby button; it’s based on a video game, and when can we honestly say that such source material, despite some promising titles – Silent Hill, Resident Evil – has translated into anything above risible? It’s also a very niche, past-its-prime online video game, one which has seen users diminish from a record-breaking twelve million to at last count five.

Then there’s the fantasy angle, and a potential franchise starter at that, which aside from Tolkien’s tomes, have all failed to ignite the imagination of your casual multiplex goer. Look at how quickly The Chronicles of Narnia were shoved back into the wardrobe. Add summer scheduling against Marvel familiarity and established brands, and even the impressive double-whammy of director, Duncan Jones’ Moon and Source Code, will only carry so much goodwill with mainstream audiences.

So colour me Orc green with surprise that the final movie, ambitiously titled ‘The Beginning’, turns out to be a decent, if somewhat chaotic slice of world creation that should even appeal to the uninitiated.

The story, which strives to be linear before descending into unwieldy mayhem, takes place in the idyllic world of Azeroth, a Kingdom overseen by Llane Wren (Dominic Cooper) and his right-hand-man, Lothar (Travis Fimmel). The threat to their existence comes not from a force within the Seven Kingdoms, which is looked after by The Guardian (Ben Foster), but from another world, an Orc World, ravaged by the excess and greed of its barbaric rulers, who are looking for a new land to conquer. They manage to open a portal to Azeroth, where they look to enslave people in order to use their lifeforce to bring the entire Orc Horde through with them and press the reset button on civilisation.

Tackling such expansive source material and knitting it together into a coherent movie without alienating those who wouldn’t know a Goblin from an Orc, is an ambitious undertaking for a director who has thus far dealt with big ideas on a minimal canvas, and for almost two-thirds of the movie, Duncan Jones gets it right.

For a start, the film attempts to present characters as so much more than simply the labels afforded to them by the game. So we’re introduced to Toby Kebbell’s Orc dissenter, Durotan, as he sits with his pregnant wife, tears rendered beautifully in motion-captured eyes that immediately make you empathic towards his character. But it’s not all CGI veneer, for it is complimented by a sweet exchange between the two. However successful it is for the rest of the film, you’re made aware that Jones wants you to care about his battle pieces.

It’s a technique that also works well for Paula Patton’s half-breed, Garona, who perhaps has the film’s most interesting Orc-arc. Rushed editing may prevent her transformation from feeling entirely natural, but then this choppy construction blights a lot of the other relationships in the final film. In particular that of Lothar (a winning turn from Fimmel) and his keen-to-please son, which falls flat because there has been little time spent on the two together amongst all of the other whirring cogs. There are also a few trailer sequences entirely omitted, presumably because of a desire to keep things flowing towards the titular ‘war’.

Lofty aspirations to accommodate so many characters and provide them with the kind of motivation usually left to heavy text in a computer game compendium also means that the likes of Dominic Cooper (muted) and Ben Foster (one-note) suffer.

The world creation is great, both aesthetically and in its clarity, as the pieces are moved into place for a final battle that threatens to undo the good work. There is just so much going on, with people teleporting back and forth, or dying without the time afforded to mourn, that you just wish they’d have edited out the huge clay giant that lollops around for twenty minutes so that you could have had one more exchange between Gorona and Lothar, or the latter and Durotan.

Warcraft might be a bit glitchy, especially to those with an aversion to such genre efforts, but the fan serving seems to be at a minimum for those ignorant to the source, and whilst it’s nowhere near any of the Peter Jackson canon, this is a thoroughly likeable piece of Dungeons and Dragons escapism.

Review by Matthew Rodgers