Once upon a time a smart studio decided to invest in the rights to make a film based on one of the most successful game franchises of all time, which is of course Warcraft. Directed by the inform Duncan Jones, off the back of Moon and Source Code, comes the first entry in what will likely be a franchise that delves into the world of Azeroth. But can the film be as big a monster as the games it takes it’s story from?
Will the film be a financial success? Yes, but is it the game to film adaptation saviour we were expecting? No it is not, that looks destined to be the Assassins Creed film due later this year. Now before I delve into this review I feel it is important that I inform you the only history I have with the games is Warcraft was an RTS (Real Time Strategy) many years ago, so I went into this film free of cynicism and without the weight of the Warcraft canon looming in the back of my mind. However unfortunately it didn’t make a bit of difference.
The film takes place in the world of Azeroth, inhabited by numerous races who are at peace. Disturbing this peace is the arrival of a horde of Orcs, who journey through a portal to escape their dying home world Draenor. Led by the dark warlock Gul’dan (voiced impeccably well by Daniel Wu) the horde begin to pillage Azeroth and take it for their own. With news of death and destruction sweeping across their world, the military of the kingdom of Stormwind, led by Lothar (Travis Fimmel), investigate the cause and soon call on the help of King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster). As the race of Orcs make progress across Azeroth, with a mysterious power of the Fel behind them, the world of Azeroth is in a race against time to stop the horde before it is too late.
Now I love a good fantasy film, but Warcraft felt like a garbled mess of a film, due massively to the story laid out. It suffers from many of the same issues DC have had in constructing a film universe to reap the benefits of releasing a Justice League film, by jamming as much exposition and story into too small a time frame. For a film about Orcs invading a new world and trying to take it over, there are just too many different story arcs going on, with too little time spent cultivating them into something meaningful. Which as a result leads to actions and consequences that take place with little to no dramatic impact because we’ve barely had the time to connect to these characters. One of the causes of this is the decision (which I originally thought was a good one) to split the viewing of the story from two different perspectives. The first being from the Orcs side, as we watch Durotan (Toby Kebbel) find a new home for his family, and on the other side we watch as Lothar leads the forces of Stormwind against the Orc horde and Gul’dan. In principle it’s an idea that works, but within these two perspectives we also get a number of side stories that take focus away from the main events, as the world is fleshed out so that a franchise can be built. This could also have been the byproduct of trying to namedrop and reference as many points from the games as they could to please the fans, but it simply isn’t necessary.
It is not however all doom and gloom when it comes to the film, the action scenes are pretty good and a bombastic score helps set the mood, and without a doubt it is so pleasing to see some magic represented in film that is not cast by a wand, potion, or Harry Potter. Speaking of magic, by far the best performance comes from the dependable himself Ben Foster as the Guardian Midevh, a protector and recluse who is summoned to aid the fight against the Orc army. Once again Foster shows his versatile acting ability to completely inhabit the role, and owns it. That being said he is one of the few who stand out. Travis Fimmel felt out of place, and struggled to keep up with some of his on screen counterparts, and Paula Patton seemed uncomfortable as the half breed orc Garona. Ben Foster aside, the best acting comes from the computer animated Orcs played and voiced by Toby Kebbell, Rob Kazinsky, Daniel Wu and Clancy Brown.
As far as fantasy films go, Warcraft is passable but should have been better. Duncan Jones did the best he could aesthetically and in crafting the film, but his efforts are bogged down by a story that is unnecessarily packed with too many plot lines, most of them horribly predictable. The action is fun, the effects are decent and the score fitting, but it lacks the heart and soul of a good story, unfortunately making Warcraft: The Beginning a somewhat hollow film.