Warcraft, the uber-geeky, crazy-spendy passion project/live-action shart from director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) attempts to capitalize on a prodigious worldwide fandom by kowtowing to the nerdy needs of message board trolls and Mountain Dew guzzlers. In bending the knee, the once-great auteur has log-jammed his feature with a waterfall of meaningless (at least to non-World-of-Warcraft-gamers) exposition, allowing for a marble-mouthed plot that’s so dense, so busy and so blundering, one can only shudder at the thought of the echo chamber of dorks responsible for letting this 160-million dollar turkey come to fruition. But their foul cinematic foal has come home to roost in all its Avian-diseased glory and the symphony of ill-timed laughs and exasperated sighs shall serve as unbiased representation of what is in store for Warcraft viewers. Reckless fan servicing, harebrained plot devices and dramatically empty characterization all mash their meaty skulls to render a film that’s entirely inaccessible and subsequently snoozy as all hell for anyone without extreme existing affinity for the source material, making Warcraft, in effect, the world’s most expensive sleep aid.
There’s an important distinction to be made when classifying bad movies that is essential to understanding the failures of Warcraft. Films don’t connect for a myriad of reasons – lazy plotting, poor performances, unconvincing spectacle, overwhelming stupidity – and Warcraft has all. But the beefy king chieftain problem is a symbiotic sense of over-familiarity. On the one hand, this stupidly-pricy adaptation of the popular video game series mistakenly assumes its audience will arrive upon their cushy theater throne with a handsome back catalogue of WoW knowledge (elsewise, how are we to keep the tome of names, locations, creatures, spells and alignments sorted?) It assumes we know, care about and want to see these (improbably dull) characters do, well, anything without actually getting us invested in them as characters in the first place. This first mistake is almost enough to dismiss Warcraft but it’s unfortunately not the end of the issues on this acrid train of recompense.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, everything that happens and everyone we meet in Warcraft – and I truly mean everything and everyone – we’ve seen before in other (better) sci-fi/fantasy films. There’s the headstrong rebel leader who must align with a reasonable, mutinying invader to defeat a sinister force. There’s the mundane portal from another world that allows malevolent invading hordes to enter the human dimension. There’s wizards, elves, dwarves, orcs, Golems, magic spells, giant eagles and wolves. And none of them move the dial no matter how hard they collide into each other.
The plots, the characters, the twists, all have been done before and almost always to greater effect. This is most notable when a prominent figure meets his end and we sit still. Unmoved. Unchanged. Unbothered. There is no oomph. Scenes such as these (and there is plenty of bloodletting to be offered) should be meaningful (and are somewhat so if we’re willing to apply it in the loosest narrative sense) but prove utterly unable to pay emotional dividends and this is due to Warcraft’s excessively poor investment skills. We’re so entirely disinterested in its events that not even significant sacrifice can rouse the uninvested audience member from their spell-cast apathy.
The film juggles two banal lead characters – one orc, one human – and right off the bat, can’t strike the right balance between the orc and human world. Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is a sympathetic Orc, impressively built by the digital effects maestros at WETA, who secretly takes arms against the dark magic shaman and sinister leader of the united Orc clans, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). With Durotan’s world left smote by Gul’dan’s dark magic, which harnesses a green energy known as the Fel, the orcs have no choice but to leave their world behind and claim the human kingdom of Azeroth. But our sympathies only extend so far – and that’s even after meeting Durotan’s green-skinned Moses baby – and as his character trends towards blandness, so too do we divest from his journey. Sir Lothar (Viking’s Travis Fimmel) doesn’t fare much better; he’s an equally watery mush of brave warrior types tasked with saving a kingdom.
I’ll spare the eye-rolling process that is describing more of the characters of this knee-slapping excuse for a kingdom but know that in and amongst the fold are Ben Foster (in a decided career low) doing a low-rent Saruman impression, Paula Patton as a runt of an Orc suffering the most substantial welts of piss poor character writing – including a mindlessly inelegant, fledgling romantic subplot – Warcraft has to offer, Dominic Cooper playing an honorable king with as much depth as tracing paper and Ben Schnetzer wholly embarrassing himself and his craft as a young, bumbling mage. He is nothing short of atrocious. I’m no prophet but I see a Razzie in his future.
The score from Ramin Djawadi is bombastic and loud. A derivative riff on Howard Shore’s tasteful and massively influential LOTR work. Aside from a few fleeting human v. orc showdowns, the action is mostly cluttered, often resembling the finger-swiping disarray of a mobile phone strategy game and usually from the selfsame overhead perspective. The effects are impressive insomuch as the motion capture work highlights the performances beneath the green dots. But with the performers saddled with such sour dialogue, even watching such notable technical achievements can prove unbearable. The camerawork seems agile but inconsistent, leagues below the heady work Jones has formerly proffered and lacking in genre specificity save for a well-framed cold open (which then goes on to have zero bearing on the film itself). Even the set design is a clumsy combination of (again) LOTR-aping practical sets and shimmering, glossy CG backdrops. But there’s little contest for the worst aspect of the lot as the script from Jones, Charles Leavitt (The Seventh Son) and Chris Metzen (Warcraft/Starcraft video games) is an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.
Every last item on screen points to a mighty collapse of studio checks and balances. Warcraft is that holographic Charizard rare confluence of putrid script treated with an irresponsible amount of bankroll. There must have been at least one reasonable exec who looked through the script (because isn’t that how show business works?) but if Warcraft is to be believed, it appears that was not indeed the case. The result is unsurprisingly a complete narrative nightmare; a swollen blood blister ready for lancing.
That Warcraft enters some territories with the alternative title Warcraft: The Beginning is sight-unseen evidence that Universal Pictures sees future life in this franchise but those unfortunate enough to watch will discover that Warcraft is so confident in its continuation that it doesn’t feel the need to even be a complete movie. That’s right, this 123-minute clunker ends on a cliffhanger, making all that came before it a little more than a lead-up to the real event to come. One character or other (remembering their names is impossible sans IMDB) mentions that the war is just beginning but with a dump truck of bad reviews and general domestic impassivity to content with, consider the war over. Ironically, the other thing that can save Warcraft now is a foreign entity: China.
CONCLUSION: Paying lip service to fans foaming at the mouth and flipping the general public the bird, ‘Warcraft’ is a profoundly dumbfounding clusterf*ck of fantasy derivation and nerd-centered jabber-mouthing. Wowing in its indecipherably dense exposition and wholly clunky execution, Duncan Jones’ embarrassing blockbuster wants so badly to be a franchise that it doesn’t bother wrapping itself up even after two hours. I don’t know which is worse: Warcraft’s gratuitous overconfidence or the prospect of having to sit through another one to know what happens.