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Dan's Review: Despite impressive visuals,"Warcraft" lacks context

Jun 10, 2016 07:35PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton in Warcraft - © Universal Pictures.

Warcraft (Universal)

Rated PG - 13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence.

Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Clancy Brown, Terry Notary, Dylan Schombing, Michael Adamthwaite, Callum Keith, Burkely Duffield, Dean Redman, Mackenzie Gray, Glenn Close.

Written by Charles Leavitt, Duncan Jones and Chris Metzen.

Directed by Duncan Jones.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:

When it comes to movies based on video games, there are certain expectations. Generally, it’s important to give the audience some frame of reference, including familiar characters and their main conflict. When I heard Warcraft was in the works, a film based on one of the most popular MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing game, for the uninitiated) World of Warcraft, I was skeptical that producers would be able to pull off a coherent story with sympathetic, familiar characters. One of the tenets of a successful MMORPG is the aspect of organic, collective, self-creation; users building their own characters drawn from templates and a limited list of proscribed attributes set forth by the game’s programming. Warcraft attempts to build an entire open-play world into one coherent film narrative. Does it succeed?

Having never played the game, I did a little research to see what aspects survived the game-to-film adaptation.

The basics involve the Orc world of Draenor and the human kingdoms of Aseroth. The Orcs (huge, tusked, green humanoids) are led by the sorcerer king Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), who sacrifices lesser beings’ souls to open a mystic portal to Azeroth, since the Draenor has become desolate. Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan and takes his pregnant wife Draka (Anna Galvin) along when he passes through the portal (she gives birth to a bouncing baby orc shortly after). Meanwhile in Azeroth, the humans learn about the orcs and their king Llane (Dominic Cooper) who orders his trusted knight and brother-in-law Lothar (Travis Fimmel)  to strike and out and do battle with the intruders. He also summons the kingdom’s “guardian” Medivh (Ben Foster) to use his magic against the orcs. Lothar  brings along an apprentice “mage” (magician) named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer).  As the humans are getting their butts kicked by the larger orcs, a beautiful half-breed orc/human slave named Garona (Paula Patton) is freed by Durotan and is captured by Lothar’s troops.

There is a lot more story to explain here, but suffice to say that some of the orcs are not thrilled with the invasion idea, leading to internal strife among their leaders as the humans face seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat the powerful invaders. Alliances must be forged and sacrifices made to thwart the complete destruction of Azeroth.

Warcraft is an odd film, with a few glaring obstacles that keep it from being the epic it aspires to. I found myself completely lost on all the orc/human fantasy world minutiae, and confused about basic aspects of the plot. It’s a problem of context, and constructing a linear tale from a collective experience has some obvious problems. Deriving a story from a world created by masses of video game players is a Herculean task, to say the least, and despite several expository conversations among the main characters, I can’t say I understand the story, nor do I have complete sympathy for the main characters, many of which are killed off. It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy void of the clever dialogue, thrown into the middle of a Hobbit movie.

Speaking of the violence in Warcraft, it’s a little on the graphic side, as people and orcs are killed by some very explicit means. It could have garnered an R rating quite easily.

Still, I was slightly more impressed with Warcraft than I thought I would be. Even with the confusing story and strange motivations, the visual effects and computerized characterizations of the orcs are impressive. The moments when the orcs are interacting with each other seem flawlessly lifelike, but during heavy action battle scenes, the CGI is much more conspicuous.


Warcraft Trailer

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