Despite being a regular gamer myself, WORLD OF WARCRAFT is something that has passed me by. You can’t not be aware of it as a phenomenon, but I’ve never played it and have no real familiarity with the story. I went into Duncan Jones’ WARCRAFT film adaptation ignorant but with an open mind. I came out bewildered and slightly annoyed I spent an evening with it.
The world of Azeroth must prepare for war as a horde of Orcs invade through an unholy portal sustained by sinister magic to their ruined homeland. Warriors, wizards and kings must work together to mount a counter-attack.
First, the good. I liked the portrayal of magic in this world as an elemental, corrosive and terrifying power. One of the few things the film does really well is to sell what it costs someone to wield it. From seeing a sorcerer standing atop a mountain to summon a lightning storm to turn the tide of battle, then immediately requiring power replenishment as their lifeforce leaves them, to the rapid corruption of body and soul some magic-users go through in the film, it all comes at a price. It’s an awesome force, but using it for as a weapon affects you far more than just swinging a sword.
The visuals are admittedly dazzling throughout, though the constant onslaught of visual information and bright colours (refreshing as it may be in a world of grey and sepia blockbusters) quickly becomes a more painful than pleasurable experience. The Orcs are very well realised with the same sophisticated motion-capture technology used in the latest PLANET OF THE APES movies. The sheer size and mass of the ten-foot Orcs fighting human knights in armour raises some interesting possibilities for the action, though the entertainment value drops drastically once the conflict grows from brutal and immediate skirmishes to hectic full-blown battle scenes. On a side note, how come in a 12A/PG-13 movie you can show swords thrust through faces and blood gushing from severed arms as long as it’s green blood? A human gets his neck crushed in an Orc’s fist as well at one point, but since there’s no visible blood it’s apparently it’s OK to show this violent death to a mixed-age audience as well.
Performance-wise there unfortunately isn’t a lot to write home about. Toby Kebbell does what he can in terms of injecting humanity (irony not lost) into new daddy Orc Durotan, though he doesn’t quite hit the perfect pathos of Koba in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and Ben Foster channels Nicol Williamson as Merlin-esque wild-eyed campy sorcerer Medivh. Elsewhere we’re supposed to root for Travis Fimmel as a smirky warrior, Ben Schnetzer’s baby-faced “chosen one” cutout and a green Paula Patton, who is more than talented enough to bring something interesting to the role of conflicted half-Orc Garona, if only the script would give her room to do so. Meanwhile, we’re meant to boo Daniel Wu and Clancy Brown’s ferocious Orc leaders Gul’dan and Blackhand, who both have striking designs but do next-to-nothing interesting and rarely say anything you can make out because they growl through tusks.
Important scenes and character moments are continually cut short or feel rushed, the film seems compelled to get it over and done with as soon as possible, yet it’s still two hours long, and a grueling two hours at that. I don’t know if massive swathes of extra exposition would improve matters, and once they stop explaining everything (about 20 minutes in) Warcraft becomes more watchable but also more confusing if you’re not familiar with the lore.
Duncan Jones is a dedicated player of the game and clearly he would have wanted to put everything he loves about it on screen (fully supported by games developer Blizzard), but I don’t know how all that passion results in something so lacking in personality. As a director, he works with big ideas on a modest scale and his stories tend to be driven primarily by character. I’m not sure this plot-driven fantasy epic was quite the right fit for his talents. I really hope his next project MUTE, firmly back in Jones’ wheelhouse of low-key sci-fi is a little more compelling. SSP