Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer, Dominic Cooper, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga
Plot: As a dark magic destroys the Orc homeland, the horde flees to Azeroth, realm of the humans, who need to fight off the Orcs and the magic they have brought with them.
Warcraft is the kind of movie you assume isn’t going to work from the moment you hear about it. Based on a MMORG video game, the kind of game that creates a rich universe, but doesn’t feel the need to add too much of a narrative to proceedings, Warcraft, or as it is known elsewhere, Warcraft: The Beginning, is supposed to be the kickstart to a brand new fantasy genre. The whole thing stinks of a cash grab. Warcraft has a massive following, so there is bound to be an audience waiting in the wings, albeit one more interested out of an excuse to criticise rather than enjoy. On top of that, with film after film trying to be the next Marvel Movie universe, Warcraft comes across as the next in a long line of franchise hopefuls. There is enough material here to make this the case, but when a movie so blatantly aims for a series, rather than trying too hard to be a stand-alone adventure, a lot of the fun is sucked out of the film.
That being said, Warcraft is far from a disaster. In fact, it has the potential to be quite good. The movie quickly establishes a vast array of cast, creating the idea of an ensemble piece. It’s a smart move, creating the fun thrill of choosing your favourite character and wondering whether they will be one of the ones to make it to the proposed sequel. Rather interestingly we start with the Orcs. Orcs are quite stereotypical bad guys, even before Peter Jackson depicted them as slimy, demonic red shirts. In Warcraft, they are hulking, snarling beasts and almost a dead cert to be some form of villainous antagonist. However, as the point of Warcraft is to pick your own army and create your own story from that decision, the producers correctly realise that some people might become disgruntled at the fact their favourite characters are reduced to the role of bad guy. Therefore, we spend the first few minutes of Warcraft humanising the Orcs, away from their villain backgrounds. The Orcs are tough, ruthless and rather resort to walk than diplomacy, although they aren’t needlessly cruel. Instead, they find themselves mercy to a corrupt dictator, Daniel Wu’s dark mage, Gul’dan. The Orc’s story centres around one tribe, led by Kebbell’s beloved chieftain, Durotan, as he tries to inspire a rebellion in the ranks. The Orcs are Warcraft’s strong points. The characters are more interesting than the humans, the motion capture performances are all faultless (don’t peek at the cast list and you won’t be able to tell who plays who), and the visual effects are inspiring. Everything works from the giant hands (watch Durotan hold his newborn son with a single hand), the tusks, to the unique body armour each Orc has. The action then shifts to the humans, who end up encountering the Orcs. Dominic Cooper plays the kind King, who responds to the threat decisively but cautiously, keen to resolve the war peacefully rather than resorting to a needless war. He turns to the help of a mysterious mage, the Guardian, who answers the King in times of need. Both the Guardian and kidnapped halfbreed Orc, Paula Patton, suggest that the real enemy is the dark magic, the Fel, possessed by Gul’dan. Throw in the reluctant mage’s apprentice and a handsome but disappointingly unoriginal human warrior hero, and you pretty much have a rounded cast.
Warcraft then proceeds to bounce from very good to strangely anti-climatic, like a quality see-saw going haywire. For every neat swooping shot or glorious skirmish, there is an odd flat note. The main flaw is Jones rushing through his material, like a man determined to get to the good bits. He lets down a lot of the wider universe and the story it is trying to tell. If I was to be a tad cruel and compare Warcraft to Lord of the Rings, Jackson knew that the best way to tell stories set in this universe is to let every part of the story breathe. As soon as some interesting crops up, like an unusual Orc tradition, Jones has already moved on to the next character. It makes Warcraft a very visually stunning movie, but not a particularly interesting one. Warcraft is such a packed world, Jones is always endangering support to his franchise by overloading us with information. It is important to note that there is a fair few of good things to say about this movie. Surprisingly, it does take some time to flesh out its characters. It is always fun to spend time with Durotan and his family, the quickest way to show the softer side to the Orcs. Paula Patton also has a very interesting character. Her romance card hasn’t got quite enough time to breathe, but at the very least, she is the one to instigate it. In fact, the only character who really could do with some additional development is the main star, whose emotional arc is predictable and unoriginal, as is his roguish sense of humour. He strikes the viewer as Jones clinging to something traditional, worried his outlandish movie universe might need a grounded figure. I would argue it doesn’t. The fighting is also hit and miss. The big war scenes aren’t quite as hollow as the majority of movies out there, but since LOTR, we find it hard to be impressed. Better are the one-on-one battles, the highlight of the movie being a duel between Durotan and Gul’dan, with a killer pay-off to boot.
So the big question: is it worth a sequel? Is it worth a franchise? Some might be frustrated at its ending, which is clearly more concerned about setting up a second movie, rather than entertaining in its own right. However, it shines in its clever moments. Certain characters end up in places you wouldn’t expect, setting up interesting possibilities for a future instalment. Perhaps inspired by Game of Thrones, some of the bigger players don’t even make it to the end, which shows that there is some clever writing somewhere among the team. I am cautiously intrigued. While it isn’t the major runaway hit, someone was hoping it would be, it isn’t quite the flop that a few critics are making it out to be.
Final Verdict: Big and messy, and guilty of being too preoccupied at the thought of a sequel, but Warcraft has enough meaty characters and fun set-pieces to get by.