Warcraft is yet another in the seemingly endless stream of poorly conceived feature films developed from video game properties. As bland as bland gets in terms of characters, plot, and execution, it amounts to an experience similar to watching someone else play a video game that’s only interesting to them. It’s occasionally pretty to the eye, but quickly grows tiresome.
What’s it about?
Based on the long-running game series that started in the 1990’s with “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans”, Warcraft the film aims at telling the origin of the Orc-Human conflict at the heart of all the games. Faced with annihilation as their world dies around them, the race of orcs, led by dark sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), pour through a magical gateway into another world and set about the task of conquering it.
That other world, Azeroth, is ruled by a benevolent king and queen (Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga), and protected by magical Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) and Lothar (Travis Fimmel, TV’s “Vikings“), the king’s most trusted army commander. As the horde of Orcs, unlike any enemy they’ve ever seen, rampage across their world, the king works to rally Azeroth’s defenders into an alliance strong enough to stop the monstrous warriors from trampling all in their path.
With the help of upstart mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and a half-human, half-orc former slave named Garona (Paula Patton), Lothar and Medivh set out to fight for their world’s future. They find a potential ally in Durotan (Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), a young orc chieftain who sees nothing but evil in the plans of Gul’dan and hopes that orc and human can find a way to co-exist.
But their efforts are threatened from the start by the power of “The Fell”, a magic powered by sucking the life from living things, which Gul’dan used to open the portal between worlds and continues to draw from the people of Azeroth his horde conquers.
The Fell’s reach is long, its power as seductive as it is corrupting, so even the brave hearts, capable sword arms and best intentions of heroes both human and orc may not be enough to stop the horror the Fell brings in its wake.
Tries to do too much
In taking on Warcraft, writer/director Duncan Jones (Source Code) takes on the orc-sized task of trying to craft a compelling character-driven film story while at the same time making fans of the game happy by honoring the rich history and mythology already developed within the game series.
Unfortunately, he only marginally succeeds in one of those efforts while failing entirely in the other. While the orcs, gryphons, swords and armor all more or less evoke the look of the games, the performers acting in and around all that CGI and green screen-powered peril look stiff and bored.
Dialogue falls flat, drama proves elusive, and suspense is nowhere to be found as characters both live and computer generated lumber from scene to scene reciting lines that feel laden and forced. Even the battles look tame, the blows delivered by warriors with massive swords and monstrous orcs carrying hammers the size of horses all looking soft, timid, and rehearsed.
To his credit, Jones seemed to want more than just non-stop hack and slash for Warcraft, and did try to include some sort of personal drama for each of his principal characters to struggle with while also reacting to the larger plot around them. But those subplots barely have time to breathe on screen, and are done no favors by the listless performances delivered by the actors here.
Arguably, the most disappointing performer here is Fimmel. The talented Australian actor, who delivers fine, nuanced work the History Channel’s “Vikings” season after season, here comes off as stolid and devoid of the charisma necessary to carry a film like this in order to make it memorable.
It’s not all his fault, though. Paula Patton, forced to deliver lines through an underbite and miniature tusks, never looks or sounds comfortable in her green skin, while Ben Foster practically sleepwalks through his scenes, and Dominic Cooper gives genre fans another reason to question his sense when it comes to choosing projects. Need for Speed? Dracula Untold? Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Someone needs to get Cooper a new agent.
If anything, watching Warcraft may make fans long for far more capable and memorable fantasy fare. It clearly aspires to the grandeur and spectacle of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, but has neither the writing nor the performances in front of the camera to come even close to those heights of high fantasy glory.
So skip Warcraft entirely, or if you must see it, wait to watch it at home. In the meantime, pop in that blu-ray or stream some Fellowship of the Ring, or better still, dust off that old “World of Warcraft” character and take him or her online for a bit of hack ‘n slash. Be careful with that route, however, especially if you’re a recovered WoW addict. Old addictions die hard.
Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schenetzer, Rob Kazinsky, and Daniel Wu. Directed by Duncan Jones.
Running Time: 123 minutes
Rated PG – 13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence.