Warcraft has a lot of ambitions. Not only is it trying to take a niche idea and build a blockbuster franchise out of it, it’s also trying to showcase revolutionary technical wizardry, balance a huge amount of characters in terms of screen time and please both its parent studio Universal Pictures & the studio behind the games Blizzard. That’s a lot to ask of director/co-writer Duncan Jones as he makes his leap to big studio filmmaking after smaller noteworthy films like Moon and Source Code. Plus, it’s a rather daunting video game property, but the budget shows the potential for a truly epic fantasy franchise and maybe at the very least a decent video game movie we have yet to really get. So when Warcraft… happens the way it happens, it’s not from lack of trying. If anything, Warcraft is the victim of trying too hard to please so many and it shows with every frame. It’s a story that’s as convoluted as it is expansive… or expensive for that matter. The characters are all over the place in terms of quality or consistency. The motivations for these events are either underutilized or not even explained.
Warcraft really wants to build a world, a world where we’re invested in both human and Orc kind as their worlds collide thanks to this ancient magic that threatens to kill many. Some of it works, primarily with the character Durotan and his struggles between the horde he’s helped lead and his new family. It’s a solid thread with great motion capture performances from Toby Kebbell & Anna Galvin that showed off some of the more nuanced examples of the admittedly breathtaking visuals that brought us these near-photorealistic translations of these Orcs. Hell, even their wolf steads are on point Yet, the overall Orc story still has no real emotional connection for the plot device of Fell Magic or Daniel Wu‘s evil sorcerer Gul’dan and why he’s so dedicated to that magic beyond a generic desire for power. Warcraft is already a vast but niche property to begin with, one that could easily alienate those unaware of the extended lore of the games. As someone who isn’t, the story only achieves the vast scope in the visual sense, with massive Orc on human battles having the expenditure to make it huge, but unable to make me care.
Then again, at least I cared about a few Orc characters. The human side of Warcraft is far worse. Their costumes are cartoonishly over exaggerated and the human actors are completely miscast. Dominic Cooper lacks any regal to portray a king. Ben Foster may just be the worst wizard in cinematic history, playing a magical Obi Wan with all the authority of a renaissance faire stoner. Travis Fimmel is the only one that has any life in his performance, but it all comes from broad goofy hand gestures & facial expressions that seem to show a complete lack of interest in what’s going on. At one point, Fimmel has to play an incredibly emotional scene… and he smiles like he’s about to crack up. Paula Patton has a huge storyline about being both Orc and human, but has a storyline that shoves her to the side as a love interest until our big climactic reveal happens that pulls one of the lamest attempts at a weight Christopher Nolan style twisted bittersweet ending in recent memory. Everyone else without any motion capture tech on has no idea what they’re doing, including a surprise cameo I had no idea about who just shows up right before the giant action sequences to spew some of the blandest fantasy dialogue out there.
Yet, I don’t completely blame any of these actors for seeming out unenthused. What they’re given to do and say in Warcraft feels secondary to its set pieces, some of which have brutal feverish exploits like an Orc-to-Orc confrontation ritual. Most of them are just these Orcs and humans lunging at each other with empty brutality based in little investment. Sound and fury signifying nothing, except extensive exposition. Seriously, every character spews a solid page worth of exposition to set up its world rather than having confidence in its visual storytelling potential. Warcraft drags us all the way to our ultimate conclusion for what? Set up for a sequel. A sequel that, given what they set up here in theory, would have probably been a better movie. This entire experience felt like a bloated prologue to a much bigger world instead of an exciting chapter that introduced us to this land with an exhilarating punch.
Duncan Jones is a great filmmaker. Moon and Source Code are two of the more underrated sci-fi films in recent memory and aspects of Warcraft show off so much potential for a truly awesome fantasy movie. What we end up getting is a high budget schlockfest that takes itself far too seriously. A bloated bore of a fantasy film with little humor and the humor that is there is gritted through the teeth of unenthused actors. Warcraft is is the exact type of mess one can’t even find that much ironic humor in, because it feels more like a tragedy than an unintentional comedy. The scraps of a good giant fantasy epic are there and seeing those scraps diluted by the bloated conflict bores more than it does satisfy or convert. By the time Warcraft hits its finale, one could care less about the fate of this world, the characters that inhabit it or what the hell is even going on.
Rating: 1 out of 5 Orc Battleaxes