WARCRAFT (5 out of 10) Directed by Duncan Jones; Written by Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt, and Chris Metzen, based on the Blizzard video games; Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown. Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin; Rated PG - 13 for "extended sequences of intense fantasy violence"; Running time 123 minutes; In wide release June 10, 2016.
Hollywood can't seem to make a good video game movie. Director and co-writer Duncan Jones is trying his best here to make this work. This is beautifully executed and you certainly feel like you're in the land of Azeroth, but the film ultimately wastes its time focusing on too many of the wrong things. While this is definitely "Warcraft," it feels like one of those boring, grinding levels where you spend most of your time gathering resources and upgrading skills rather than raiding and fighting.
The story most specifically draws from the storyline of the first Warcraft game, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The basics? Orcs invade from their dying world into the land of Azeroth, and the humans fight back to defend their homes. This is the first major problem with the film. Like a comic book movie too dedicated to telling its origin story, it forgets what makes people like the series in the first place.
With sales and subscriptions in the tens of millions, it's hard to understand why the creators here didn't opt for the more popular stories of Arthas and the Lich King from Warcraft III or from the incredibly dense World of Warcraft MMORPG. The film seems more intent on setting up its world for sequels it takes for granted will be made, when they simply should have made that sequel. If you're looking for things like ogres, trolls, elves, or dwarves, you will be sorely disappointed. However, fans are teased with tiny cameos from these other races, such as caged Dranei in the opening of the film, or even a murloc fishing in a river.
All of the characters here are incredibly two-dimensional, even when seen in IMAX 3D. One exception is Tony Kebbell as the orc chief Durotan. The blending of digital wizardry and voice acting make him seem alive and real. While the other orcs look just as good, it's Kebbell's performance that make him a more sympathetic and interesting character-- and basically the only such character in the entire film.
By comparison all of the human characters are boring and their motivations less clear. The actors are clearly trying here, but the script isn't giving them much to work with. Indeed, it's unclear who we, as the audience, are supposed to follow or sympathize with. Why have a single POV character that we can all latch onto who takes us on a quest through this dense history and mythology when you can have four different, poorly executed ones? The movie bogs down as it deals with human politics, and the only thing worse is when it deals with orc politics, which are even more boring and stupid.
Any video game movie where you would rather have played the game itself for two hours is a failure. This is such a failure, but it's so beautiful and interesting to look at. Unless you're talking about surviving two hours of Barrens Chat, in which case the film is preferable, but not by much. If they were finally able to break out of the tedium of "First War" era Warcraft and build a sequel in this gorgeous, beautifully-crafted digital world, then that's a movie worth seeing, and something audiences will eventually get. Or just go play World of Warcraft for a few hours with some friends instead.
5 out of 10