Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense fantasy violence
Warcraft: The Beginning focuses on the human nations of the fantasy world of Azeroth, and their battle against the Orcish Horde; alien invaders who arrive through a magic portal from their dying world of Draenor. The two civilisations battle for survival, with both sides of the conflict seeking to save their family, friends and ultimately their entire race.
On the face of it, this is a simple enough premise that could easily provide a great introduction to the world of Warcraft (pardon the pun). The Warcraft video game series that the movie is based on has a wealth of history and epic characters to draw upon, and if done correctly, could give the biggest fantasy movie franchises a run for their money.
Alas it’s not to be. If you were looking to Warcraft to break the video game movie curse, then I have some bad news for you. As a film, this crosses the finish line with more of a whimper than a bang.
It’s a real shame too. There is a lot of strong talent behind this movie. Director Duncan Jones‘ previous efforts of Moon and Source Code are great movies, and really show the deft hand of a talented movie-maker. Couple this with a cast comprising of actors like Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Dominic Cooper (Captain America), Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Clancy Brown (Highlander), and it’s puzzling why the final product turned out to be such a mess.
So what’s actually wrong with the film?
Well to begin with, the story itself is overstuffed with characters and ideas. Sure, there’s a lot of lore behind the games, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be crammed into one movie. There are characters on both the sides of the Orcs and the humans that could have easily been trimmed out, allowing more focus on fewer central protagonists. As it was, the film consists of a lot of short scenes cutting back and forth between characters and places, and each scene never really felt like it was finished, before we moved to the next one. It got to a point where we might as well have been watching a montage.
Even in the moments when we got a chance to breathe and learn about the characters, the dialogue is so cheesy and generic, it’s tough to really care about what the characters are saying. This applies largely to the humans. Take for instance when Commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), meets the failed mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). Lothar instantly starts treating Khadgar like an incompetent, without any real justification for that behaviour. It’s obvious that the script called for the characters to be antagonistic towards one another, in order to go on some kind of redemption arc, but it doesn’t feel earned. The relationship feels more forced than anything else.
This applies to Lothar’s relationship to the half-human/half-orc Garona (Paula Patton). You can see the romance sub-plot coming a mile away, but the actors don’t really have any chemistry with each other, and any romantic notions seem to appear out of the blue. It doesn’t help that Patton’s performance is pretty stilted, trying to be gruff and intimidating, but coming across rather wooden instead.
As an aside, I also don’t understand why the accents for the characters are all over the place. Some people are speaking with a very proper British affection, while others don’t even bother hiding their American accents. It’s jarring and takes you out of the movie. PICK AN ACCENT PEOPLE!!!
Faring better are the orcs. Their story of a race desperate to find a new home, doing what is best for their people is one of the stronger developed plot points of the movie. Toby Kebbell as Orc chieftain Durotan, was a highlight, giving a layered and sympathetic performance. Pretty impressive for a character that could have easily been played as an antagonist.
Aided by some amazing special effects, when the orcs are left to their own devices, you actually get some of the stronger performances in the film, which is ironic considering most of it is computer generated. It almost makes you wish that there was no live action element, and the entire film was a CG effort.
A downfall of having live action mixed with CG is that, whenever the two are on-screen together, it tends to reduce the believability of the special effects. The way that the Orcs, dwarves and other CG creatures in the movie are designed are very true to the games. However this does not integrate that well with the real life humans. This is no more apparent than in the opening scenes where Ganora (the only live action element) is in the village with CG orcs. She stands out, and not in a good way.
But come on. This is a movie called Warcraft. Forget about all the character development malarkey. The action will make up for it, right? Right? Er…wrong. The battle sequences felt oddly flat, with a lot of them not lasting very long. And in the scenes that did go on for a while, there were many times when you couldn’t figure out who was who, or what was really happening. We’ve seen a lot of what’s done here before, and done better.
At the end of the day, it’s really hard to care about what’s going on. There are characters who die that we don’t really have an attachment to because we’ve seen about five minutes of them on screen. There is a lot of mumbo jumbo going on about bad magic versus good and clichés of looking for the strength within you, but it really doesn’t stir that much emotion, and the finale comes more as a relief that it’s all over more than anything else.
That said and done, the movie does have some good bits here and there. The orcs are incredible creations, almost seeming flesh and blood, if a little stylised. I also really liked the score that Ramin Djawadi composed for Warcraft. I couldn’t pick a hummable theme on the first viewing, but it is fairly epic in scope for a film of this nature.
While I was hoping for a great start to the Warcraft franchise, what I got was more of Lord of the Rings lite. But the good news is the movie is breaking records in China, with that market helping make back the production costs of the film. In five days it already made more money in China than Star Wars: The Force Awakens did during its entire run in that market. So chances are, we will be getting a sequel. Let’s hope that the powers that be take heed of the feedback for this movie, and go about fixing all the issues in the upcoming films.
I give Warcraft: The Beginning a 4 out of 10.