Warcraft - Review: Ambition but hordes of problems

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Warcraft - Review: Ambition but hordes of problems

It began back in 1993. A year that gave us timeless cinematic classics like Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List and Groundhog Day but also gave us the first big screen movie based on a video game:  Super Mario Brothers. Yes, we know, it sucked worse than a super plunger but it represented a key change in the film industry with gamers being recognized as a target demographic. Some film executives figured out that if people are willing to shell out $40-50 on a game franchise they like every time a new title gets released, they’d probably have no issue spending $10 on a tie in movie. Thus the grand tradition of video game-based/inspired movies was born and while their quality has never levelled up to player expectations, they have proved to be profitable ventures for those involved (Prince of Persia grossed $336 million). With that in mind, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to tap into the mass popularity of the Warcraft franchise (10 million WoW subscribers are happily paying $15 monthly fees subscription fees) and indeed one has been in development for a decade. Now, the green skins are finally fresh off the green screens as Warcraft stomps into the cinemas but it is not the world changing event it wants to be.

As their world is dying, the noble Orc clan leader Durotan (Toby Kebbell –Fantastic Four) reluctantly unites under the Horde of powerful death magic wielding Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu – Into the Badlands). Gul’Dan will lead the Orcs to conquer the new world of Azeroth unless the humans of Stormwind led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper – Preacher) and Commander Lothar (Travis Fimmel – Vikings) can stop them.

Now despite being entitled “Warcraft; The Beginning”, in some locations the first thing that stands out is how unfriendly the film is towards noobs. While there’s enough exposition to keep a general idea of what’s going on throughout the first act, the pace is far too rapid as all manner of characters and locations are shoved on and off screen. It’s like visiting an aquarium with a toddler --he's so keen on rushing from tank to tank that you barely have time to appreciate everything inside. Now the intent is clear and in all fairness publically announced. The boys at Blizzard and Legendary Pictures want this to be the start of a Warcraft film universe so there is a lot of world-building and plot-embedding for future films but there’s far too much of it. If you imagine the first Iron Man movie taking the “Avengers setup/prequel” approach or the second, that’s what Warcraft has done here at the expense of feeling far too overcrowded at times, even shallow in the way key characters feel very underdeveloped. In fact, at a couple points, it even feels like you’re watching a prettier version of 2000's terrible Dungeons & Dragons movie. It’s a shame because there are some great ideas and representations of the franchise lore amongst the more tangled mess. The base motivation of Orcs being forced to conquer to die as their own world fades is excellent. This is something that even Warcraft virgins can relate to because they’ve spent the last few years watching it on Game of Thrones; as Mance Rayder unites the mass Wildling horde on the basis on of conquering south of the wall or killed by the White Walkers if they stay. Exploring this in terms of motivation creates the deepest aspect of the film by highlighting the similarities on both Human and Orc sides. Big teeth or small, there are those that want nothing more than to slaughter the other, those that would seek peace or those in the middle, just wanting to protect their people. In fact, they really should have done here is taken a Flags of Our Fathers/ Letters From Iwo Jima and made two separate films each telling the story from either Human or Orc perspectives.

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However, “pretty” is a key word here: this film looks incredible. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into recreating Azeroth and its inhabitants, not just in terms of reflecting them in reality but keeping visual familiarity with the games. The bulky, oversized torso armour worn by the humans is at times comedic, but really makes this feel like a more cinematic incarnation of the games. The fight and battle sequences, big and small, are well rendered via CG and motion capture, pitting the size and strength of the Orcs against the skill and technology of the Humans (with plenty of groovy boomsticks). While the lack of character relation takes some of the stakes and peril away from the conflicts, there is no shortage of spectacle and visual awe, especially when the spellcasters get their mojo on. So if you couldn’t give a dwarf’s hairy testicle about having an epic story and just want something to give your eyes a critical hit, there is plenty for you to enjoy.

In terms of the Humans Vs Orcs conflict, this is a clear win for team green in terms of onscreen entertainment. Despite their main antagonist, Gul’Dan feeling like he’s drawing all his bad guy inspiration from Transformers 2’s The Fallen, the Orcs are by far the most emotional end entertaining onscreen presence. They impress from the contrasting leadership approaches of Gul’Dan and Durotan to having good themes of love, friendship and tradition amongst its principal characters, bolstered by Clancy Brown (Hail, Caesar!) as Blackhand and Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim) as Orgrim Doomhammer. Their Human counterparts just get bogged down by having far too much going on. The best example is the relationship between Lothar and his soldier son. At the key point, the film wants this to be extremely insignificant but we’ve spent too little meaningful prior time with the pair together that it becomes completely ineffective. In fact, Travis Fimmel is stripped of almost all his likeable qualities that Vikings’ fans have come to love by being forced into only a slightly interesting character archetype. The only vaguely compelling face amongst the ‘oomies is the green skinned half breed Garona (Paula Patton -Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) as we watch her comprehending the differences in Human and Orc societies.

Following Batman Vs Superman, Warcraft becomes the second film this year to remind us that there are no shortcuts or cheat codes to building a film universe and trying to rush it will more likely result in a game over. Warcraft fans will logout with positives and negatives from the experience. The War-clueless viewers are more likely to be disappointed unless intended as light casual viewing. Do not go into this expecting The Lord of the Rings because while it charges in with enthusiasm, inadequate planning quickly brings it down (that’s right, this film is Leroy Jenkins).


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