By Nathan Evans
Is it possible to make a good video game movie? If you had asked me that question before I’d seen Duncan Jones’ first foray into franchise filmmaking, I’d have said no. Now that I have seen ‘Warcraft’, the cinematic adaptation of the massively multiplayer online role playing game ‘World of Warcraft’, my answer is: maybe, but we’re still not there yet. Between the nascent efforts that were the ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and ‘Mortal Kombat’ all the way to the more recent slate of horrendous video game films like ‘Prince of Persia’ and the ‘Resident Evil’ series, Hollywood hasn’t quite been able to crack the video game formula. It’s clear that Jones and Legendary Pictures make an honest effort to solve that formula with a film that satisfies both the longtime fans of the source material and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, the end result is a CGI drenched mess of a picture filled with paper thin characterization and some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard from a big budget film.
‘Warcraft’ tells the tale of the beginning of a war between the humans of a mystical land called Azeroth and a horde of orcish invaders fleeing their own dying homeworld to colonize it. An orc chieftan named Durotan and his pregnant wife Draka are the initial focus of the film. Durotan, desperate to ensure the survival of his family, conceals his wife’s pregnancy and joins up with the first of the invading orc forces. When Durotan realizes that the leader of the invading horde, an orc named Gul’dan that deals in dark magic called “The Fel”, isn’t working in the orcs’ best interests, he turns to the humans for their help in staging a coup to overthrow him.
The film, mercifully clocking in at a slim two hours, splits its time evenly between the cast of orcs and the cast of human characters led by Travis Fimmel (of the History Channel’s ‘Vikings’) and Dominic Cooper as the human king: Llane Wrynn.
The orcs are entirely, and poorly, computer generated. When the film focuses exclusively on them the action reads as nothing more than a too sleek cartoon, but the real problems emerge when the orcs interact with the human cast. One is hyperaware of the digital artistry at play during the obviously green screened battle scenes that permeate the film. It’s this same overabundance of CGI that makes it nearly impossible to take the film’s quieter, dramatic moments seriously; though in some instances the film’s technical specs are not to blame for the lack of credibility.
Enter Paula Patton’s human/ orc hybrid Garona; easily the most troubling (embarrassing) aspect of the film.
Clad in painted green skin, a ridiculous wig of gnarled braids, and what I’m assuming are a couple of foam nubs for tusks, her appearance in any scene undermines, not only the film’s tone, but her own stilted performance (complete with a peculiar speech cadence that disappears depending on the scene). In a particularly odd moment, her character even traverses into the realm of the insulting when she not-so-subtly alludes to the fact that she may have been brutally raped several times. My eyes rolled so hard they almost popped out of their sockets.
Unfortunately, Patton isn’t alone. While Fimmel gives the film more than it’s worth, Cooper, as Wrynn, has a hard time acting against the special effects. He’s joined by talented character actor Ben Foster who sleepwalks his way through the film as the seemingly good wizard, Medivh. I expected him to break character at any moment and walk off the screen to go cash his check.
In fairness to all involved, the script doesn’t give the cast much to work with. In it’s rush to speed the two factions into conflict, it neglects to satisfyingly build the world. We’re introduced to several other races, yet we’re never privy to how they interact. What function do the dwarves serve in relation to the humans? What role do the glowing eyed elves play in the war? What’s the hierarchy of the kingdom? Why is a character as bland and inconsequential as Wrynn even king? We’re never given the answers, though the film does sadly go out of its way to set up a series of sequels that may or may not answer them.
The ambiguousness of the script even extends to the characters themselves. Aside from a few lines of obvious exposition, very little is done to establish the relationships between them. The scenes that attempt to cash-in on those relationships end up falling flat because we’re never sure why we were supposed to care about the characters involved in them to begin with. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, and the film does manage one truly heartbreaking moment that serves as an homage to the archetypical story of ‘Moses in the Reeds’.
I’m not sure how Duncan Jones, the director of the masterful science fiction film ‘Moon’ and the effective sci-fi thriller ‘Source Code’, could produce a film of this quality. This is only his third feature. Maybe he bit off just a little more than he could chew. Maybe his first two efforts were just flukes. Whatever the reason, I’m hopeful that this film won’t derail his chances to make another one. He’s seemingly a director of great talent and vision, and while you can see small (very small) glimmers of that in this film, ’Warcraft’ is ultimately an expensive misstep for both he and Legendary Pictures.
RATING: 1.5 OUT OF 5