10 years since the rights were bought, with staff ins & outs, rewrites and a small movie called Avatar released in-between, Duncan Jones finally brings Blizzard’s phenomenally successful Warcraft gaming franchise to the silver screen.
Here it is in short: fans will love it or at least enjoy it; non-fans won’t. I really don’t think there’s much of a middle ground.
Fans will understand the references, recognise the places & characters, spot little Easter-eggy moments of magic and ‘lore’, all of which will be great fun due to earnest (not good, just earnest) performances and high production-value design, including pretty spectacular motion capture work for the Orcs.
But for those of us who won’t have these gleeful brain-tickling moments, it’s a messy, incoherent, dull & unoriginal fantasy tale with some dreadful acting to boot – no matter how beautiful and wonderfully escapist the CGI-rendered landscapes and fantastical cities are on the big screen (and they do look pretty good; I’d get a timeshare for a flat in that floating city for sure).
With excellent, high-concept movies Moon & Source Code under his belt, we all had a right to expect more from Duncan Jones. The most obvious way to explain Warcraft’s mediocrity is that he is an admitted fan of the game.
If the Director is steeped in all this fan-esque knowledge and expectation, it’s no surprise that he seems to have signed off on fleeting references and half-realised scenes in the final picture – if you’re already expecting a moment or character to appear fully intact, thanks to your own background knowledge, all they need do is appear and you’ll be satisfied.
The fight scenes offer a bit of choreographed fun and much-needed energy, but they are few and far between; instead we are treated to endless scenes of heartfelt/‘tense’/political dialogue between characters who have not earned their right (in screen time and development) to such conversations.
Particular Razzie notice has to go to Dominic Cooper for his woeful young king of Azeroth. He looks like he has no idea where he is or how to act; possibly a reflection of working mainly with green screen sets? And Ben Foster eschews the fun of an eccentric, overpowered ‘Guardian’ wizard in favour of schizophrenic mood changes and a ripped physique.
Travis Fimmel holds his end up well as swashbuckling hero Lothar; with fantasy-ish form already for work on TV’s ‘Vikings’, he alone of the human cast seems to understand the kind of movie he’s in, i.e. lots of gurning, sarcastic laughs and sword-slicing relish. Paula Patton also works hard to inhabit her feisty half-orc eye-candy love interest role, despite a complete dearth of quality dialogue.
It is also nice to see someone challenging Andy Serkis for motion capture expertise in Toby Kebbell, who gives as good a performance as can be delivered when your face will be turned into textured CGI mesh in post production. We ended up wishing every character had been similarly mo-capped, as it just might have made the whole film that much more believable.
It’s truly disappointing, as this is something of a big-budget (over $100m!) tentpole for the possibility of bringing much-loved gaming titles to the big screen. Cash-cow potential aside, there are certainly some great videogame narratives out there worthy of adaptation; it just turns out that Warcraft isn’t one of them.
A great shame, but it will be lapped up by Warcraft’s many loyal fans, some of whom are closer to being citizens of Azeroth than players of a game; if they give it the Box Office it needs, who’s to say there won’t be a sequel?
So far it’s doing very well in China… perhaps Azeroth will have more of an Eastern vibe to it if there is a second outing.