WARCRAFT Review

Going into the long-awaited feature film adaptation of World of Warcraft I wasn't sure what to think or expect. The closest thing I could equate the experience with was that of Stardust back in 2007 where I assumed that the tropes of wizards, witches, and magical lands would follow a rather standard plot (not knowing it was based on a Neil Gaiman story at the time). Given that adaptation came from the likes of writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn that film turned out to be a favorite of mine that I still enjoy to this day. This was the sole reason I had hope for Warcraft. I like Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and that he came to this project as both a co-writer and director as well as a person who seemingly had an affinity for the source material I was given slight hope in the fact this story, that more or less looked like a second-rate Lord of the Rings, could potentially turn out to be, if not necessarily good, at least mildly entertaining. As it turns out, that is where this feature adaptation of the long-running video game series finds itself. With no point of reference and close to no expectations I went into Jones' Warcraft with the simple hope that it wouldn't be terrible and it's not-by any means. In fact, there is some pretty fun stuff to experience and even some affecting moments that caught me off guard. That isn't to say this movie isn't silly-it is, but that Jones and his team fully embrace the nerdiness of the material and are willing to do a deep (enough) dive into the mythology of this world and the numerous creatures that exist shows they're committed to not only the material, but that there is a certain regard for the story they are telling. All of that said, if you're not into such fantasy worlds or such fantasy stock characters then you will still hate or at least find what is going on here beyond ridiculous. And admittedly, outside of a few combat scenes and those aforementioned surprisingly emotional moments there isn't a whole lot to find appealing for an outsider looking in, but that this final product turned out to be as coherent and, for the most part, as fun as it is counts as a win considering the twelve years' worth of material the makers had to pull from combined with the task of pleasing fans of the games and the uninitiated alike.

Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky) finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his fellow soldier Durotan challenges their leader.
It is somewhat outrageous to ask for a quick summary of what all is going on in Warcraft, but if it were to be boiled down to a short paragraph the need-to-knows would be that there is a race of orc invaders led by the evil Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) who has the ability to rip energy out of other beings (including his fellow orcs) in order to open portals to other worlds. As the orc's current homeland is dying Gul'dan decides it time to move his multiple orc clans and thus the plan is hatched to take over the peaceful realm of Azeroth. Azeroth is populated by humans, dwarfs, and a few elves, but our story primarily focuses on the humans in this equation. Led by King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) the humans immediately make plans for stopping the army of orcs that are invading their lands, but things quickly become more complicated on both sides of said conflict. First, we are introduced to orc leader Durotan (Toby Kebbell) who has just become a father to his first child with wife Draka (Anna Galvin). Durotan is the leader of the Frost Wolf clan and senses in Gul'dan a corrupt sense of power that he sees infecting his species and placing them on a path he'd rather not travel. And so, it is once his clan makes their way through the portal to Azeroth that Durotan seeks an agreement with the humans to where they might both help one another by removing Gul'dan from his position of power and come to some type of understanding. This sets up an interesting dynamic in an unexpected form by which I mean the conflict between each species and how they desire to handle the situation of their differences for the greater good is more appealing and carries more weight than what I expected, but it is really in the parallel stories of Durotan and the leader of the human army, Anduin (Travis Fimmel), that we find something genuine to root for. Anduin is brother-in-law to the King and a single parent whose son Callan (Burkely Duffield) only seeks to please his father. In the initial interactions between the orcs and humans Anduin rescues a half-breed named Garona played by the beautiful Paula Patton (buried under green body paint and terrible false fangs) who comes to serve as the bridge between these opposing sides and the two heroes who are on this collision course that will decide the fate of their people and their home.

There are whole other parts of the film that deal with a prophetic guardian played by Ben Foster and an apprentice of sorts in Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), but there isn't time, space, or a need to go into as much. Instead, the more interesting aspects to discuss are those of the themes Jones chooses to explore and how he conveys as much through a visual medium that is largely made up of computer generated images and motion capture performances with the only real humans in this picture having to act their asses off in order to sell this in a credible manner. To the point of themes, what is most engaging is this idea of legacy, perspective, and how an individual or a culture's outlook can change over time. Warcraft is very much about the shifting of a culture from a pre-established belief to a new way of thinking and it conveys as much by highlighting the inherent connection between parents and their children in both of its two leading heroes. Despite Durotan and Anduin being at vastly different points in their parenting careers the two are written in such a way that they come to learn and experience similar life lessons through the connection they have with their children at these stages. With the turns the story takes these ideas are only amplified all the more as it is made clear the presumptions that led to these pre-disposed dispositions need to be overcome if peace between the orc's and humans is ever to truly come about. There are other ideas concerning betrayal and how we're all eventually exposed for who we really are, but none of these are as prevalent or as well followed through on as this idea of heritage and how traditions can be altered with the progression of constant learning and adapting. Not knowing if this is a detail drawn from the game or not Jones also depends heavily on a battling color scheme of blue and green. We regularly identify these colors with a globe or map, representing two things that can both complement one another and cause each other great damage. If Warcraft and Jones' approach to the film were to be thought of in more intellectual terms one could say that Jones was crafting something of an allegory for our world and the many ideologies from all over the globe that continue to butt heads, but also display the beauty of the human race. Warcraft seems to have ambitions of a different kind though, and honestly-that's fine. This final product seems to be what it sets out to be with little to no inhibition about what those who don't care to "get it" think of it.

Anduin (Travis Fimmel) develops a relationship with the half-orc/half-human Garona (Paula Patton) in Warcraft.
In many ways I feel it necessary to defend the film as it is nowhere near as laughable or as nonsensical as I anticipated, but that doesn't mean I didn't have my fair share of issues with the production either. For starters, the film as a whole is mixing so many different genres and ideas that it feels we're barely scratching the surface of what this world might hold and maybe, in that sense, one could look at this as nothing more than a fine enough introduction to a universe that will surely be expanded upon, but as a stand-alone feature Warcraft suffers from one too many loose plot strands and an incomplete sense of resolution that isn't open-ended in the way it makes the viewer contemplate further or come to their own conclusions, but more for the opportunity of making sequels. As previously stated, there is an abundance of CGI and much of it is pretty impressive. Having seen it in IMAX 3D some of the detail such as the hairs that line the orcs shoulders and arms is incredibly detailed and life-like, but then there are other moments where the motions and movements of those same characters couldn't feel more stilted. There is also the case of Foster's character altogether who lacks any kind of real motivation and in coming to the climax of his character arc looks more like something out of a bad 80's fantasy film (like home movie special effects bad) than what we expect to see in a big Hollywood production budgeted at $160 million. Sure, the film could have been aided by using more real locations especially when discussing some of the expansive exteriors needed here and sure, the majority of the battle sequences aren't especially noteworthy and never do we feel as if the humans could actually successfully battle these massive orc's, but Fimmell is giving it his all and it is through his sometimes legitimately heartbreaking performance that the tragedy of a few situations affects us in unexpected ways. Patton is also doing strong character work here despite the make-up and despite her mostly awkward body language when going into the throws of battle. Patton's Garona becomes something of a main character on which the ultimate quest for peace comes to rest and while this conflict isn't resolved in what I would call a satisfying way it is somewhat reassuring to see what could have easily been little more than eye candy serve as big a purpose as she comes to in this world. As the film nears its destination there is somehow an integrity applied to this otherwise absurd and unabashedly nerdy world to the point I enjoyed it enough I have no room to judge.