Movie Review: ‘WARCRAFT’ is ‘THE GOLDEN COMPASS’ of video game movies

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

WARCRAFT |  123 min  | PG-13
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis FimmelPaula PattonBen Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin

Traditionally, movies based on video games have never turned out to be that great. For every MORTAL KOMBAT (which I’m sure hasn’t aged very well) or RESIDENT EVIL, there’s a SUPER MARIO BROS or WING COMMANDER. So going in, director Duncan Jones’ WARCRAFT is bound to be viewed by most people with much skepticism. And they should, because what we are given cinematically (by an uber talented director, mind you) doesn’t live up to the game franchise’s beloved status. You will have to fight the feeling to walk out – or at least I did.

There’s been a disruption in the peaceful force of Azeroth, a human world ruled by King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and Lady Taria (Ruth Negga) and protected by young Gandalf-esque great wizard Medivh (Ben Foster). Orcs are using dark magic called “the Fel,” to open up a portal, fleeing their dying world in order to colonize another, seizing it with brute force. Amongst those leaving for a better life are kind-hearted chieftan Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and his expectant wife Draka (Anna Galvin), who are leery of their leader, nefarious wizard Gulden’s Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), who’s been corrupted by the Fel. And he’ll stop at nothing less than tyranny to reign supreme! Once arrived, the orcs plan to build another portal to bring more of their horde over – something that would spell sure-fire destruction for the citizens of the seven kingdoms of Azeroth. The key to helping end Gul’dan’s reign of terror is “half-breed” slave orc Gamora Garona (Paula Patton, playing the Zoe Saldana of this piece), the king’s henchman Lothar of the hill people (fake Martin Henderson Travis Fimmel), and mage/ wizard-in-training Kadghar (Ben Schnetzer). Good Lord; Shakespeare is less difficult to decipher than this plot.

Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga in WARCRAFT. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga in WARCRAFT. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Never has there been a film that’s been more “not for me” than this one. Granted, somewhere in the world, this will be someone’s favorite film – one that will inspire them to get an arm tattoo like Kadghar’s or train their dog in the Orc language. Usually in gigantic tentpoles such as this, the world we’re stepping into is over-explained. Not that I want to add any length to the over two hour run time, but this is one of the rarer cases where important mythology and lore are actually under-explained. That might be a plus for the fans, but for the majority of people who’ve never played the game, all of it will sound like nonsense. What’s the difference between the green orcs and the brown-ish ones? Why do Lothar and Kadghar have to jump through so many hoops in the beginning to go see Medivh? Why doesn’t Draka leave with her child when Ducan warns her? Plus, there are so many loose ends in the third act that are clearly based on a wrong-headed assumption that this will hit big and sequels will be greenlit. See how well that worked out for THE GOLDEN COMPASS? It barely works as a stand-alone film, let alone an exciting set-up for a entire franchise.

Perhaps the biggest problem from the get-go is that we’re pushed into a world where we don’t care about any of its inhabitants. When the orcs ambush the humans in their first clash in the forest, we don’t know who to root for as there’s been no hint at any formidable character development. Attempts at humor fall flat due to the stone-cold seriousness of the narrative. It’s a sobering realization that SEVENTH SON, a fantasy film that shares similar aesthetics and co-writer Charles Leavitt, is far better than this.

There’s very little to praise, but let me try. I admire Jones and Leavitt’s screenplay for trying to tie in some real-world relevance of absolute power corrupting absolutely, immigration and colonization. However, it never quite comments on these things in a smart, cogent manner. It’s nice to see two female characters supportive of each other. Despite ultimately ringing hollow, Jones – with help from production designer Gavin Bocquet – utilizes scale and scope, building an expansive world. Mayes C. Rubeo’s costumes are beautiful so at least they add some visual interest to the generic shenanigans taking place.

Perhaps this film is just for the numerous fans of the Warcraft games, who are already familiar with the world and its characters. Unfortunately, Jones’ adaptation is a longshot to expand that audience. Maybe it could have used some more Leeroy Jenkins. As it is, this should be renamed “Snorecraft.”

WARCRAFT opens on June 10.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.

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