UK Release Date: 30th May 2016
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: Duncan Jones
Writer: Charles Leavitt, Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu
Synopsis: Orcs travel through to the human world of Azeroth and instigate a bloody conflict that threatens the existence of both species as they battle for the world.
On paper, it looked as if 2016 was going to be the year that the video game movie escaped its self-imposed ghetto. However, with The Angry Birds Movie proving to be distinctly uninspired, that was one chance down the drain. And whilst it’s true that we’re yet to see Justin Kurzel‘s stylish-looking take on Assassin’s Creed, there’s nothing about Duncan Jones‘ leaden, boring take on Warcraft that implies it can be at the forefront of any revolution for films based on games. To get the easy puns out of the way early, this is more like Bore-craft… or Snore-craft… or Please-stop-I-can’t-take-it-any-more-craft.
When the orc home world is torn apart by dark magic, powerful warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) unites clan leaders including Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and takes them through a portal to the new world of Azeroth, which they mean to conquer. Human commander Lothar (Travis Fimmel) discovers a mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who is investigating dark magic. Khadgar persuades King Llane (Dominic Cooper) to consult sorcerer Medivh (Ben Foster) for advice and the humans capture half-orc Garona (Paula Patton).
I came to Warcraft as a huge fan of Duncan Jones. Both Moon and Source Code are among the best sci-fi movies of the last decade. Unfortunately, there’s very little hint of Jones’ genius in this movie, which is a dismal trudge through a series of bland fantasy landscapes, populated by two-dimensional archetypes rather than characters. There isn’t a shred of character between them, which leaves the film looking rather laughable whenever it attempts emotional beats.
The performances are a real problem. TV star Travis Fimmel is seemingly in a different tonal universe to everyone else in the film, cracking jokes and quipping ferociously whilst entirely oblivious to the stoic, straight-faced approach his castmates have chosen. Ben Schnetzer gets nothing but nonsense to say and Paula Patton, as the nominal female lead, gets absolutely nothing to do. The breathtaking seriousness of every actor in the film creates a tedious, stodgy tone that could really do with an injection of joy. Warcraft is a grey movie in which grey characters have grey conversations. There’s not even so much as a splash of colour, creativity or charisma on show.
Toby Kebbell’s mo-cap performance as lead orc Durotan was designed by Jones’ script rewrite to bring humanity to the orcs and create a balance so that there were heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict. Rather than making the orcs more interesting, this instead makes them boring. It’s particularly galling given that the film still has a clear antagonist in the shape of the unambiguously evil Gul’dan. This isn’t the balanced take Jones was selling in advance of release and it’s clear that the need to produce a fan-pleasing fantasy action movie overruled his desire to put together something emotionally and thematically complex.
It’s in the action that Warcraft finds its only real strength. The impressive CGI is an oasis in amongst the crushing tedium of the magic and mumbling that forms the main body of the story. The orcs are convincing and the action really works, but is sometimes taken wildly off course by the script’s unusual propensity for pausing battle sequences so that two characters can have an extended conversation. It’s yet another irritating quirk in a film that fails to solve its inherent central issue – half of the fun of a video game world is having the freedom to explore that universe yourself.
Pop or Poop?
Duncan Jones had made his first major filmmaking misstep with this boring and uninspired take on an online game that has a world far too rich to be conveyed in a single narrative feature. Attempts to deepen the material do not pay off and the performers don’t have the nuance to make the characters worth spending time with, particularly when the swords fly and it becomes impossible to care whether anyone is able to keep their head on their shoulders.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.