Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: "Warcraft"

The record for movie adaptations of video games is just atrocious… and it’s not getting any better with the release of “Warcraft.” Fantasy movies don’t fare so well either, so it’s got the double whammy effect.

“Warcraft” has been in development for literally 10 years, when the World of Warcraft online game was just reaching its peak, with millions of people playing characters from a broad range of fantastical races and abilities. There are also some precursor strategy games, novels, collectible figures, replica weapons, and other offshoots of a multi-billion-dollar empire.

(And I know of which I speak. In the years B.K. – before kids – I was an 80 paladin/80 warlock/80 death knight/68 priest/59 rogue on the Kul Tiras realm of WoW.)

It’s not an overstatement to say that Warcraft is the first video game to become a cultural phenomenon. The movie, a $160 million extravaganza heavy on top-drawer CGI animation, became almost inevitable.

I wish it weren’t.

The movie has a slapdash, chaotic feel, as if the filmmakers were trying to stitch together footage shot during two or three different productions. There are continuity errors all over the place – one warrior is broken out of prison, given his armor back, and in the very next scene his armor is gone and he’s barefoot for some reason. Another major figure is revealed to be corrupted by dark magic… but when and how was he corrupted?

There’s missing backstory and motivations all over the place. We watch characters do things without understanding why.

Director Duncan Jones, a promising filmmaker who made the excellent “Moon” a few years ago, co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, and I can only guess they were shackled by restrictions from Blizzard, the company behind Warcraft. I would posit they were given a checklist of story elements and characters and ordered to fit it all together somehow.

The story is set in the early days of the Warcraft mythology, when the bestial orcs first crossed over from their dying world into that of the humans, setting off battle. There are also quick nods to a few other races on the “Alliance” side of the game, notably elves and dwarves, but the Horde is just orcs. (Thankfully no pandas, at least!)

The orcs are a wonder to behold, painted with wondrous detail by the animators. They’re huge, seven feet tall and thick as oaks, with green skin and protruding tusks, and a vaguely American Indian style of adornment. A few of the nastier ones even have… other protrusions.

Toby Kebbell plays (through voice and motion-capture performance) the orc hero Durotan, a noble savage who fears for the plight of his people, including a newly born son. Their leader, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), is a mighty wizard wielding a terrible green magic called Fel, which he uses to open a portal to the human world of Azeroth. But it requires a sacrifice of lives, not to mention poisoning the very land.

On the human side is Lothar (Travis Fimmel), commander of the forces of King Llane (Dominic Cooper), who’s called upon to resist the orcish invaders. He’s an odd hero; he seems more peckish than resolute.

Ben Foster plays Medivh, the stern magical guardian of the realm, who mostly broods in his lonesome soaring tower, occasionally dipping into a pool of blue goo to revive his powers. Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) is the classic exposition character, a wayward wizard who turns up whenever the plot needs explaining or moving along.

Somewhere in the middle is Garona (Paula Patton, in heavy green body paint), a half-breed orc who’s captured by Lothar and recruited to their cause. The two start exchanging jungle fever-type stares, though Garona helpfully warns him that he would be injured if he tried to lie with her.

Question: if this is the first time the orcs have crossed over into this world, how did a human breed with one of them years ago to create Garona? If you’re asking these sorts of questions, you’re thinking too hard to enjoy this movie.

“Warcraft” is a great-looking flick that should have been a lot more fun, and a lot less silly, than it is.

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