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Review: Warcraft (2016)

Warcraft (2016)

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Premise: Based on the video game World of Warcraft. An army of orcs travel through a portal to a human world which the orcs intend to colonize. The two civilizations prepare for war while internal tensions among the orcs and the humans complicate their battle plans.

What Works: Viewers who love epic fantasy adventures will find a lot to enjoy in Warcraft. This film has many of the popular elements of those kinds of stories. It takes place in a medieval-like setting and incorporates magic and monsters and sword battles. Where Warcraft is able to distinguish itself is in its moral complexity. A lot of fantasy pictures tend to be morally simplistic. Movies like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars tend toward dualistic notions of good and evil; although good people can become bad (and vice versa) the distinction between those sides is always clear. To its credit, Warcraft has some nuance. The orcs invade the peaceful realm of Azeroth with barbaric intentions but Antonidas, the lead orc character (Toby Kebbell in a CGI enhanced performance), struggles with the rightness of what his people are doing. He plans an uprising against the orc’s corrupt leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) who holds onto power with black magic. There is similar complexity among the people of Azeroth. The various factions cannot agree on how to confront the invaders and Medivh (Ben Foster), a Merlin-like magical guardian, is of an uncertain moral character. That nuance comes to bear on the action which makes the drama of the battle scenes more interesting. The action sequences of Warcraft are a little more restrained than some other Hollywood tentpole movies, which gives the action some credibility, but more importantly the set pieces fulfill a story function and have dramatic stakes. Who lives and who dies has implications for the rest of the story and each action sequence moves the narrative forward.

What Doesn’t: While Warcraft indulges the conventions of the fantasy genre it also approaches them with little visual imagination. There is a lot of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies in Warcraft; the dwarves in particular look like they wandered in from the set of The Hobbit. The world of Warcraft is cliché in its design; the costumes and creatures are generic knockoffs of Dungeons and Dragons. The quality of the special effects in Warcraft varies widely. There are some great looking images and the digital characters have some impressive detail but other effects look cartoonish and the digital action sequences are reminiscent of Warcraft’s video game origins. The design of the movie has a peculiar failure in Garona, a half human-half orc played by Paula Patton. Unlike the other orcs, she is played by a flesh and blood actress instead of a digital character but she does not fit in with the look of the movie. Patton is unevenly slathered in greenish makeup, dressed in a short, revealing outfit, and given ridiculous looking dentures. Clearly, the filmmakers want her to channel Zoe Saldana’s role in Avatar but she’s more reminiscent of Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. This gets at the root of the problem with this movie. Warcraft is, at its heart, the kind of B-movie schlock that Ray Harryhausen would have made. But Warcraft has none of the charm of movies like Jason and the Argonauts. The self-seriousness of the movie, its lack of humor, and its digital special effects snuff out a lot of the fun. Warcraft also suffers from fundamental story problems. It has no central protagonist; this isn’t really anyone’s story and the most compelling characters are killed off. The movie doesn’t culminate in a concrete conclusion. Nothing really gets accomplished by the end of the story. The movie plays as set up for the sequels that are clearly intended to follow.   

Bottom Line: Warcraft is not a terrible movie but it is mediocre and generic. The film is intended to lay the foundation for a franchise but the lack of compelling characters leaves us unfulfilled instead of craving more.  

Episode: #600 (June 26, 2016)