Review: Warcraft (2016)

I played Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. I played Tides of Darkness. I played 3. I never played WoW because I already spend enough time indoors and I didn’t want to tempt fate, but aside from that I’m pretty familiar with the lore and history of Warcraft as a property.

I also love director Duncan Jones’ debut feature Moon and enjoyed Source Code. Bowie’s son has a lot of talent, and has the ability to realize a fantastical world on-screen with grit, realism and flair.

Real beard. Real trackies. Real body odour.

So what happened?

What has become, thanks to slavish fandom and the disposable incomes of thirstysomething I.T. professionals, the most financially successful videogame-to-movie adaptation of all time, is confusing, hollow and worst of all, boring. An uninspired fantasy tale with no real heroes, no villains with any depth, no recognizable locations and no real dramatic tension, Warcraft is pandering of the highest order. Instead of actually undergoing the task of adapting the lore to make a watchable film, Jones throws all of the story from the first RTS game at the audience without panache or pace and expects them to care. Unfortunately, Jones forgets to flesh out characters, providing us with less-than-archetype Warhammer rip-offs from a game that ran on a 386, instead of creating interesting, emotional, cinematically engaging people.

Avatar might have been populated by caricatures, but at least they were well-drawn caricatures

Instead of picking a human character and following them as we’re introduced to the world through their eyes, we’re dumped into an Orc camp and expected to empathize with a couple of CGI monsters. The attempt to present real, full characters who are actually created by a computer is valiant, and should be commended, but the reason Gollum worked in The Lord of the Rings is because he was contrasted with and complimented by real characters and real environments. Instead we get videogame characters in a videogame cutscene. The voicework is fine (Toby Kebbell gives warmth and dignity to That One Good Orc, Durotan) and the motion-capture works well, but it’s not enough. They’re still paper-thin and unreal.

What’s worse? The humans are even less convincing.

Great Shrek cosplay, terrible anything else

Our nominal heroes are Lothar, a human General, Khadgar, a nebbish wizard, and Gamora, a half-orc half-human whose ‘stuck between worlds’ story is given the slightest of treatment. Travis Fimmel has great on-screen presence, in an Aussie Paul Walker sort of way. His character has no depth — a son in peril storyline has no emotional weight in this computer-generated world — but he carries the day with a charming performance. That’s the lone good performance out of the way. Paula Patton’s Gamora is ridiculous, in look and in action, and Ben Schnetzer is unremarkable as Khadgar.

Look at this unremarkable dude

I could describe the plot, but I couldn’t tell you the story. It’s not a Hero’s Journey. It’s not a Gang of Misfits. It’s just a bunch of video game characters on a fetch-quest for meaning, and they do not achieve their goal.

The Orcs’ home world is being drained of life somehow and they need to go through a Dark Portal to a new world where they can live and kill and be Spartans. They end up in Azeroth, a weak facsimile of a facsimile of Middle Earth. King Dominic Cooper, a character who seems to possess no inner life, thoughts or feelings, wants to defend the land against the invading Orcs. There’s a big scary Orc wizard and a big scary human wizard and some fights and some battles and Paula Patton switches sides but then doesn’t but then does and Travis Fimmel jumps around and Durotan That Good Orc tries to be friendly but it all goes wrong and none of it matters and none of it is engaging.

Duncan Jones approached this as a fan of the games, instead of as a fan of good cinema. I would rather he butcher the backstory and lore of the games but create a fun, exciting film filled with characters whose motivations make sense, whose actions have weight, whose losses hurt and whose wins feel triumphant. I think Jones has talent, but with a property this commercially valuable he was never going to be allowed to fully apply that talent or develop a vision of his own for this world.