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WARCRAFT (2016) review

June 12, 2016

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written by: Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones
produced by: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner & Stuart Fenegan
directed by: Duncan Jones
rated: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence)
runtime: 123 min.
U.S. release date: June 10, 2016

 

I went in knowing only that “Warcraft” was derived from an immensely popular online RPG game from Blizzard Entertainment and left the theater knowing little else about it. That’s not a sign of a good movie. While I can appreciate the obvious ambition it took to make “Warcraft”, if anyone without any knowledge of the source material winds up totally lost or bored, that’s a sign of failure. There could be a good movie in here for specific viewers, but that’s exactly how I felt after watching it. But even the die-hard fans who’ve spent years of hours will have difficulty with this bewildering and complex mess. Since I really like co-writer/director Duncan Jones previous movies, “Moon” and Source Code“, this was especially disappointing to me, but I can’t say I’m completely surprised. 

Trying to explain the particulars of the plot or keep track of characters is specifically daunting. I thought orcs were exclusive to Tolkien, but here we have a dying barren world inhabited by giant creatures called orcs that look like a mashup of Klingons and neanderthals on steroids (think the tiny heads and ginormous muscles found in the art of Rob Liefeld) with protruding underbites housing pierced tusks. Some are brown-skinned and noble, while the more savage are green-skinned, yet all wield weapons and are ready for battle. These orcs are led by the hunchbacked Gul’dan (voiced by Daniel Wu), who has relied on the glowing green magic of Fel to sustain his kind, a power that requires the life-force of creatures to sustain its power. Enough power has been accumulated to form a temporary portal to ultimately leading to the creation of a temporary portal to the bountiful world of Azeroth, home to human kingdoms and their armies.

 

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King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) rules one such kingdom named Stormwind along with his sister and trusted counsel, (Ruth Negga) and when he learns of the threat of an orc Horde who’ve invaded their land, he sends lead knight, Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and young bookish mage, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) to look into it. The two stop in on Medivh (a sleepwalking Ben Foster), a powerful Guardian assigned to protect the land, in order to seek guidance and assistance. An alliance is formed among human kingdoms for the inevitable clash between orcs and humans (no surprise, since most of this story comes from the 1994 game, “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans”).  Of the orcs, one chieftain named Durotan (Toby Kebbell, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes“), whose main concern is caring for his wife and their newborn son, begins to suspect the evil of Gul’dan’s powers and secretly contemplates a truce with the humans. At the same time, the half orc/human green-skinned Garona (poor Paula Patton, so great in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and will only draw comparisons to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora in “Guardians of the Galaxy“) is taken prisoner by the humans in their effort to understand the orcs better. As she sides with the humans, strategic moves are played out on each side, as a clash of epic proportions looms with one race aiming at conquest and another out to defend their home, both fighting for their own existence.

 

 

I’ll admit, I had to do some post-screening research to figure most of that out. Again, I shouldn’t have had to. It doesn’t matter that I’m not well-versed in the specifics of the game – I don’t have to be an avid fan of Jane Austen either  to understand film adaptations of her literary works and so on. There had to have been a better way for Jones and co-writer Chris Metzen to introduce anyone to this world without it feeling like a convoluted mess. Better yet, maybe this is one of those games that should’ve stayed a game, just like there are some comics which should never be made into a movie or television show. If I had to explain this to anyone who asks, I’d just have to say these huge orcs battle these armored humans and stuff happens. I’m sure that’s not what Duncan Jones hoped for viewers.

 

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Speaking of television shows, as dense as this is, I can see why something like this would be better suited for an episodic narrative. In a small-screen medium, you’d have more time for some of the ancillary characters that pop-up here like orcs Orgim Doomhammer (Robert Kazinsky) and Blackhand (Clancy Brown)  – not to mention the cameo by Glenn Close playing I don’t know wh0/what – and more time to develop world-building, storytelling and characterization. That’s how and why “Game of Thrones” has succeeded. Even if this intended as a trilogy, in hopes of emulating the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it still needed to slow down and figure out the best way to introduce virgin viewers to this nerd savvy fantasy world.

Unlike those live-action fantasy/adventure series, the world-building in “Warcraft” never feels real, which is a huge problem.  I couldn’t make anything out of these abysmal cacophony of CGI nonsense. The movie is so slogged down by its own technology, that it’s utterly indecipherable – almost as indecipherable as the words coming out of those orcs mouths. No one thought that maybe it would be hard for viewers to understand the lines coming out of a mouth lined with jutting tusks. It’s like listening to someone talking after they’ve had all their wisdom teeth pulled. It’s just as absurd as some of the character’s motivations and behaviors in this movie, but I guess it’s fitting for a movie that feels like the toy line come to life. If this movie did anything for me, it made me think that Paula Patton would be pretty awesome as She-Hulk, so get on that Marvel Studios.

 

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It seems quite a risk for Universal and a gamble for Legendary, but this movie is already making a ton of money in China, which means will likely get a another movie. I bet that doesn’t make nearly as many people happy as they had hoped. For the life of me, I cannot think of another movie that has been so tailor-made for the fandom of its source material than “Warcraft”, but surprisingly enough, I’d give this another try before rewatching recent bad sequels like “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “X-Men: Apocalypse“. At least with this, there’s something to respect for trying something new – since it’s not a prequel, sequel or reboot.

As I sat there in the theater, I wondered how it was that I was so into fantasy movies like “The Neverending Story” and “Willow” when I was a kid and now here I was totally not getting into this. I felt like I should be a target for “Warcraft” and I hoped it would succeed considering its director. Instead, the movie falls somewhere between “Battlefield Earth” and “Avatar” and I was left wishing a movie I hoped would’ve been fun (maybe even great) had never gotten made.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

 

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