Jones’ World of Warcraft Not Worth Visiting
The many creatures and civilizations who call Azeroth home have lived in peace for generations. King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) rules fairly, with compassion, treating human, dwarf, elf and mage all alike, attempting to facilitate a sense of community that will unify the land if evil ever decides to stand against it. His brother-in-law, valiant knight Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), commands the armies, while the powerful wizard Medivh (Ben Foster) is ready to do King Wrynn’s bidding if ever the need should arise.
It now has. Thanks to a magical portal linking far off lands one to the other, orc shaman Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) has lead his followers to Azeroth with plans to rule. But some in this throng do not follow him blindly, especially Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the beloved leader of the Frostwolf Clan. A new father, he is not happy about what it is that Gul’dan is doing, noticing how his black magic the feeds off the essence of the living has transformed him into a shadow if his former self. It has perverted their leader, made him a monster, and while the rest of the orcs haven’t yet realized this to be the case Durotan is not about to see his clan destroyed by any of his insane machinations.
Welcome to Warcraft, a movie based on, inspired by or adapted from (take your pick) the phenomenally popular Blizzard Entertainment video game that has been thrilling players around the world for over two decades now. Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones, co-writing the script with Charles Leavitt (In the Heart of the Sea), attempts to do for this world what Peter Jackson did for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or John Boorman did for the King Arthur legend with Excalibur and, in the process, create the first movie lifted from a video game that actually matters. Sadly, he does not succeed.
But not for lack of trying or an absence of filmmaking acumen as there is plenty here for Jones to be proud of. The motion capture technology utilized to bring many of the amazing creatures residing in Azeroth to life is astonishing, the orcs most of all. Kebbell, no stranger to this sort of work thanks to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is superb, giving Durotan pathos and depth in ways that are increasingly astonishing. Anna Galvin nearly equals him as the Frostwolf Clan leader’s loving wife Draka, while Robert Kazinsky as his second-in-command Orgrim gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as the character discovers his loyalties continually shifting to and fro as events progress. The synergy between what the actors all accomplish and the visual effects technicians supporting them is incredible, and as such there is a level of believable intimacy created that is as organic and as concrete as any I could have hoped for before watching.
More than that, the scope and scale never feels beyond Jones’ reach. As personal and as controlled as both his previous two science fiction favorites might have been, the gigantic landscape this particular sandcastle has been built upon is shockingly organic, living and breathing with robust vivacious enthusiasm. The director has no problem whatsoever staging massive battle sequences. More, his attention to detail is incredible, and not once did I ever lose track of who was fighting who, where it was the skirmish was taking place and why it was they were at one another’s throats. It’s an impressive feat, things progressing with a focused electricity that’s oftentimes breathless in its gripping joie de vivre.
Even so, the end result is something less than wonderful, Duncan and Leavitt’s juvenile script more Dragonheart than it is Dragonslayer, more Krull than it is Ladyhawke, more The Hobbit than it is The Lord of the Rings. There’s so much going on, so many characters to be dealt with and so many different clans and factions to keep track of, a lot of times all of them end up becoming one gigantic blur of fantasy action-adventure supernatural caricatures than they do anything else. There’s also a ton of narrative shorthand utilized in order for things to go from A to B to C, so much of it things break down into genre cliché more often than they do anything else, some of it so laughable it’s almost as if Jones and Leavitt wrote with the SyFy Channel in mind and not for a summertime theatrical release.
Then there is the stuff that’s just plain ludicrous. Paula Patton plays a half-human, half-orc hybrid named Garona, and as good as she is in the role – she’s terrific – the character as written is still a total mess right from the start. Kept in chains by Gul’dan, she’s still important enough he makes sure she joins him on the other side of the portal during the conquest of Azeroth. When captured by Lothar and presented to King Wrynn, they decide to trust and arm her even though her intentions remain a vague mystery throughout. In fact, the monarch ends up putting so much faith in Garona he ends up asking her to do the unthinkable for the greater good, a late third act twist that feels more born out of convenience than it does it anything else particularly silly.
I don’t have much of a problem with the hints of interspecies romance that take place, and I do love how multicultural the film is, even as it pertains to the Orcs and their hierarchy. There are so many unanswered questions, though, while the blatant set up for future sequels, of which there will likely be none, isn’t just obnoxious, it’s moderately insulting. While there are a few solid payoffs, including a stunning standoff between Lothar and Gul’dan’s chief enforcer Blackhand (Clancy Brown), there just aren’t enough of them to make sitting through all the supercilious cartoon fantasy nonsense worthwhile. Although Jones is still a major directorial talent from which big things continue to be expected from, Warcraft can’t help but be a major disappointment, the game all but over as far as this particular fantasy franchise is alas concerned.
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)