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The World Of ‘Warcraft’ Is Vast, Ambitious And Ultimately Unsatisfying (Movie Review)

WRC_Tsr1Sht_Sword_1102_RGB_1With Warcraft, any inherent silliness that comes from seeing this live-action video adaptation is pushed to the side thanks to tremendous visual effects that effectively incorporate real facial expressions to develop truly believable CG characters. Sadly, this only concerns the orc characters. The rest of the film contains too many unenjoyable human characters and attempts to cram so much story amidst all the world building. These faults unfortunately turn an ambitious endeavor from director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) into another misfire for the sub-genre. However, if you want a hardcore fantasy film, you certainly got it.

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The film starts rather promising. It was always going to be a risky proposition to bring the Blizzard game’s depiction of orcs to life, but following a brief fight that serves as a cold open, we get an up-close look at Durotan (Toby Kebbell), an orc chieftain and our lead protagonist for this side of the story. Thanks to new developments in how to handle facial movements in motion capture technology, you get a full expressive range matching Kebbell’s abilities as an actor to the CG orc face we see. It is impressive to say the least, with this aspect of the film proving to be the most notable.

Staring at the faces of these orcs is one thing, but the anticipation I had for this film largely stemmed from understanding how the film would attempt to balance the orcs and the human. From the orc’s point of view, their homeworld of Draenor is dying and an orc warlock, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), has united the races and uses his dark magic (the fel) to open a portal to Azeroth, a world ruled by humans. Durotan is conflicted, as he wants a good home for his wife and newborn child, but does not want to slaughter innocents to obtain it.

There are a lot of positives to take in from the orc side of things. We are getting a story that somewhat serves as a commentary on refugees, with layered characters that happen to be in the form of hulking bodies with tiny heads and giant hammers. Similar to Matt Reeves handling of Caesar and company in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jones gets credit for wanting to embrace a world filled with CG characters and make them convincingly real in terms of the conflicts they face. I find issue with how wishy-washy the orcs seem to be in terms of who or what they want to support, but the inherent weirdness that comes from this side of the story was easily a highlight.

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It is a shame things turn sour when it comes to humans of Azeroth and their side of the story. Naturally the humans are more than a little concerned about the arrival of violent orcs, but the film does very little to let me care about their plight in all of this. By default I should care about innocent humans being invaded by a warring orc race, but the characters offered feel so lacking in both development and charisma.

Our lead is Sir Anduin Lothar (Vikings Travis Fimmel), an excellent knight with skills in both combat and the practice of constantly almost looking like he will cry, while being cool. This is the closest we have to a fun character, as Fimmel tries his hardest to show playfulness in a film that treats everything quite seriously. Ben Foster is also around as Medivh, a wizard who serves as the Guardian of the lands. While all of the humans put on conflicting, but seemingly regal accents, Foster choose to play his part as if he were a heroin-addicted D&D fanatic. It adds to the weirdness of the film and is a far cry better than seeing Ben Schnetzer as a young mage who lacks any sort of personality.

In between the humans and orcs is Paula Patton as Garona, a half-breed who has been dressed as if she entered a Halloween costume and lost due to bad hair. While Garona is written as what should be the most complex character of the bunch, Patton simply feels miscast or unable to create someone more compelling out of this role. It speaks to the film as a whole in terms of the human element, as you really don’t get much out of any of these actors. Warcraft suffers from this, as the erratic plotting and reliance on TV stars makes the film end up feeling like an overstuffed pilot for a TV series, rather than the start of a movie franchise that requires 2 or 3 more entries.

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With the human element coming up way short, the saving grace, along with the orcs, should be the action. Yes, there is a good amount of action sequences in this film, but Jones is no Peter Jackson when it comes to this stuff. It looks good as far as seeing fight sequences in daylight and the interaction between humans and orcs that doesn’t look too far from real, but it rarely feels inventive. You can only watch big hammers smashing against armored men for so long before wondering what else the film has to offer. It doesn’t help that the answer to that question is magic battles that also only provide so much interest.

The potential for this film to be good was here. It is just a shame we spend the first hour building up the universe of the film before getting a sense of what the main plot should be. That idea extends to forming an alliance between the good Durotan and his orc clan with the humans, but the film hardly even commits to this. In a two hour movie, we only see the semblance of a main idea, before we get back to jumping all over the place and spending the final fourth of the movie developing plot strands for a potential (if unlikely) sequel to further explore the world of Warcraft.

That last bit largely summarizes why Warcraft ends up being a misfire and possibly spelling game over for what could have been Blizzard’s first film franchise. As talented as Jones and his team are, the work seems to have been put in to make a piece of a puzzle, rather than give us one whole satisfying picture. It is not for a lack of trying and there is clearly enough weirdness to show off the artistic vision that was put forward, but too much was attempted here. It is one thing to have great-looking orcs, it is just a shame the film couldn’t craft better humans and story.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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