Warcraft is visually spectacular but unless you’re into the computer game it references, it’s a struggle figuring out who’s who and what’s going on.
Duncan Jones announced himself as a sci-fi director to watch with his debut feature film, Moon, in which he wrung something special out of an ultra-miserly budget, particularly in the design. With mega-bucks behind him, he’s really pushed this area of his talents in Warcraft, his third movie, a visually spectacular blockbuster referencing the computer game of the same name. However, as impressive as the design aspects are, the dramatic fundamentals – story and character development – have been lost in the mix.
We are dropped straight into an imaginary world derived from the Warcraft game, which is no problem for fans, but baffling for the uninitiated – especially those, like me, who are not big on the fantasy genre. On one hand, Jones is to be applauded for his uncompromising approach. Warcraft fans will rejoice. Anyone else will be stretched figuring out who’s who and what’s going on.
The stupendous visuals keep things interesting for those who might otherwise be scratching non-comprehending heads. Masterfully exploiting 3D, CGI and motion-capture technology, Jones and his team have created a middle-ages-styled world of mythical creatures, sorcery, gigantic musclebound tusked invaders (Orcs) and humans in medieval gear led by the honourable and vaguely Arthurian King LLane (a rather lame Dominic Cooper).
I had to do some research post-viewing to get the character names and arrive at a half-coherent precis of the story; indeed, if you’re not a Warcraft gamer there’s a good case for reading the synopsis before seeing the flick. The Orcs have fled their dying planet, invading the human-inhabited Azeroth via a portal. These monstrous humanoid beasts, accompanied by giant wolves and led by ruthless warrior Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and evil “mage” Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), appear to be an unstoppable force. Wielding fearsome weighty clubs and other crushing/cutting/chopping weaponry, the Orc soldiers cut swathes through the armoured forces King Llane pits against them, crushing skulls like eggshells and snapping necks like pretzels.
However, the humans have a mighty warrior and mage of their own – Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and Medivh (Ben Foster) respectively. Then there’s a faithful gryphon who wreaks havoc on the battlefield. Thus, the humans have enough going for them to sustain the tumultuous battles that take up most of the film. Interestingly, the outsized physical dimensions of the Orcs seem to diminish as the final showdown progresses towards its inevitable outcome!
The Orcs aren’t all bad – a few of them have a human(e) side! One of the soldiers, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), makes a plea for bloodless compromise that is rejected with contempt. Alas poor Durotan. While he dooms himself with his peacenik sentiments, he has recently sired a son, whom his wife sends floating off down the river Moses fashion, thus setting up a sequel or five. The baby Orc, a cute, blue, pointy-eared little thing, is as impressive an editing room creative feat as any in the film, and that really is saying something.
Over in King Llane’s camp, an Orc slave, Garona (Paula Patton), apparently half-human (how did that happen?), finds her loyalties divided when she falls for Lothar. The two shape for a pash at one stage, but the screenwriters bale out of the idea, probably because the tusks jutting up from Garona’s lower jaw like inverted vampire fangs rendered romantic mouth-on-mouth action problematic if not downright hazardous. Otherwise, there’s precious little going on in terms of human(esque) drama. And that makes it difficult – impossible in my case – to care about the characters.
Needless to say, Warcraft ain’t my thang. In conception it is exceedingly – actually, preposterously – dumb, and there’s no getting around that. I mean, what’s with the Orcs’ massive up-pointing tusks? Evolution is never that stupid. The tusks are too close to the eyes and face to function as weapons. And what about eating? The poor old Orcs would need to delicately manoeuvre dainty morsels between the tusks. A little out of character for beasties of their ilk, surely.
Fans of the Warcraft game will probably embrace this film adaptation as a thoroughly entertaining immersive experience. They showed up in droves when the film opened in the States, but the general public wasn’t so keen. The gamer clientele wasn’t enough in number to save the film from bombing at the box office. However, apparently it’s done massive business in China, so at least one sequel now looks likely. My hope is that Duncan Jones will leave the direction to others and focus his talents elsewhere.
So, one for the gamers, but if narrative and character float your boat put on the lifejackets or stay home.
Movie website: http://www.warcraftmovie.com.au/
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