PG-13, 123 mins.
2016, PG-13, 123 mins.
Toby Kebbell as Durotan / Anna Galvin as Draka / Travis Fimmel as Anduin Lothar / Dominic Cooper as King Llane Wrynn / Ruth Negga as Lady Taria Wrynn / Daniel Wu as Gul'dan / Ben Foster as Medivh / Paula Patton as Garona Halforcen / Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar / Robert Kazinsky as Orgrim Doomhammer / Clancy Brown as Blackhand
Directed by Duncan Jones / Written by Jones and Charles Leavitt
The video game to
movie adaptation genre has been the laughable critical punching bag for
what seems like an eternity. Why?
Because a lionís share of its entries have frankly been
WARCRAFT has very
high aspirations of eroding the rotten taste that countless video game
movies have elicited in our collective mouths over the last several
decades, and to say that the film is a courageous undertaking is a
criminal understatement. Not
only is it intrepidly attempting to inject some much need life into a
genre on critical life support, but itís also dauntingly adapting one of
the most popular and widely played video games in the world.
Blizzard Entertainmentís WORLD OF WARCRAFT has become such a
ubiquitous entity in the gaming world that even people that have never picked
up a video game controller/keyboard/mouse know of its existence.
WARCRAFT film has a resoundingly strong pedigree of talent behind the
scenes that instantly helps write it off from being a qualitative
disaster. The film was
co-written and directed by the great Duncan Jones, who previously made one
the finest sci-fi films of the last decade (that virtually no one saw) in SOURCE
CODE and before that made the equally compelling MOON.
If anything, Jonesí unbridled passion and enthusiasm for the
underlining material (by his own admission, he has been WARCRAFT devotee
for years) is something that simply canít be said about so many other
video game film translations that feel cold and uninviting.
He somehow finds a manner of paying faithful respect and homage to
the gameís core mythology while simultaneously crafting an eye-popping
and sumptuously realized fantasy odyssey that holds up as well as anything
that Peter Jackson, George Lucas, or James Cameron ever conjured up on the
silver screen. Even though
thoroughly replicating the gameís endlessly dense and labyrinthine
mythology doesnít always translate well to viewers unfamiliar with it, WARCRAFT nevertheless goes for broke with an unwaveringly
headstrong and commendable spirit by Jones and company.
Distilling the overall plot dynamics of WARCRAFT here will arguably be as challenging as Jones' attempts at relaying them in the film. WARCRAFT is ostensibly concerned with the brewing war between humans and orcs. The orcs themselves are gigantic fanged and dreadlocked behemoths that would dwarf the Hulk. Aside from their intimidating and monstrous facades, the orcs are not savagely simple-minded killing machines. Some of them are sensitive minded family men, like Durotan (Tobey Kebbell), who just recently became a father to a rather adorable, pointy-eared baby orc after his wife Draka (Anna Galvin) gave birth early in the film. However, the world around Durotanís relatively peaceful home life is anything but serene. The orcs are ruled over with a despotic fist by a cruel wizard Gulídan (Daniel Wu) that wishes to take his kind out of their decaying world of Draenor and into the human world of Azeroth, where theyíll invade and take everything and anything they please. Gulídan hopes to do so via a magical portal that requires, I think, the souls of the living to power it.
Durotan is not really down which such nefarious plans and is rightfully
conflicted about his duty to his species and the twisted motives of
Gulídan to pillage anything in his path in Azeroth.
The humans of Azeroth are ruled over by King Llane Wrynn (a
somewhat comatose Dominic Cooper), his trusted sidekick/friend and devoted
warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and the guardian (wizard) Medivh
(Ben Foster). Realizing the
scope and severity of a large scale orc incursion on their lands, the king
methodically plans for an equally immense defensive. During one early skirmish the kingís men capture the half
human, half orc Garona (Paula Patton, looking conspicuously like Gamora
from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY),
but the king frees her on the condition that she will help them against
the orc/human war to come.
WARCRAFT is a masterpiece of art direction, production design, and visual
effects dynamism. Jones and his intrepid team lovingly and boldly create a
world that cannot be...and a fully lived in and tactile one that immensely
helps viewers to fully cement themselves in this filmís multiple
universes. On a level of pure
visual world building, WARCRAFT is an unqualified triumph, especially in
the arena of what has to be the finest motion capture that has ever graced
a feature film. Kebbell
himself is no stranger to the flourishing technology (see the last two
PLANET OF THE APES films), and WARCRAFT represents a staggeringly remarkable
marriage of his surprisingly nuanced and layered performance and cutting
edge digital fakery. The Orcs
look and feel positively real in nearly ever scene
they occupy, which is assisted by Jonesí insistence to make Durotan
arguably the most compellingly rendered character in the entire film.
Yes, heís a beast, and yes, heís the product of visual effects,
but thereís rarely a moment in WARCRAFT when you doubt the authenticity
of this larger-than-life being. He's a relatable character, not an antiseptic
and soulless effect.
I only wished,
though, that the human characters in WARCRAFT were as engagingly well
rounded and interesting as the CG orcs in the film.
Thereís something immediately to be said about a film that asks
us to empathize and identify with non-human characters, which is admirable
(when it boils right down to it, there are no clear cut, black and white
heroes and villains - excluding Gul'dan - in the film), but Jones drops
the ball a bit when it comes making the protagonists of Azeroth
compelling. Cooper looks
largely overwhelmed and confused throughout much of the film, and Ben
Foster is kind of all over the proverbial map as the guardian that canít
be fully trusted. Travis
Fimmell looks the part of a dashing fantasy swashbuckling hero, but he
lacks a distinct personality altogether his own.
Arguably, the only human persona here that commands any sizable
attention is the half-breed Garona. She
occupies a thoughtful subplot involving her slow and gradual trust of
humankind (even though a sort-of romantic angle between her and Anduin is
awkwardly handled without much payoff).
She might be the only performer that appears
largely in human form in the film that gives something approximating a
fully formed performance.
This brings me to
the other problems that plague WARCRAFT: its overall mythology is very
impenetrable, especially to franchise neophytes.
Attempting to shoehorn in so many characters, so many core ideas,
so many locations, and so much in the way expositional particulars into a
world as large as WARCRAFT into the confines of a two-hour film really
shows in the final product. Casual
filmgoers and those unfamiliar with WARCRAFT lore (count me among the
latter) may have great difficulty trying to deduce who is who, how they
relate to one another, and what the geographical differences are between
Stormwind, Tirisfal, Azeroth and Draenor.
For the initiated, the film will undoubtedly feel like information
overload, asking audiences to keep mental track of the litany of names,
places, relationships, and conflicts that exists within. The overall editing of the film also suggests a longer one thatís not present that may have expanded upon establishing its
narrative. Sometimes, scenes have a definitive beginning, middle,
and then a very abrupt ending (or none at all) before haphazardly segueing
to the next unrelated scene. The
freewheeling manner that the film zips from moment to moment doesnít
help viewers like me in trying to make sense of whatís going on here.
Yet, WARCRAFT still managed to endlessly captivate me despite how much it bloody confounded me on storytelling particulars. Jones concocts such a stupendously rich and textured fantasy landscape built up upon by some of the most impeccably engineered visual effects that Iíve seen that it ultimately became impossible not to be swept up by the sheer filmmaking craft and majesty of it all. I found myself surrendering to the universe of WARCRAFT. The manner that Jones somehow juggles and brings together the immensity of ingredients that made the video game franchise adored by millions and somehow makes it mostly work in a feature film is all rather thankless. I felt like I wanted to return to the cinematic world of WARCRAFT, something that I have never said about nearly all other video game movie adaptations in the past. Many critics have been lambasting this film, which is unfair. Despite its obvious and nagging faults, WARCRAFT occupies a whole other qualitative hemisphere above the genre films that came before itÖand itís one that deserves big screen consumption to fully appreciate its unbridled ambitiousness.
CTV MOVIE SEGMENT: RECAPPING THE SUMMER'S UNDERRATED FILMS