In The Beginning…
If recent events have taught us anything is that people aren’t always as apathetic as we perceive them to be, despite whole catalogues of evidence to support it. Whether it be the EU referendum in the UK, the US Presidential nominations, or the territorial pissing contests in the European Football Championship it is clear that people do still have passion for ideologies and beliefs that they will passionately, and sometimes aggressively defend.
Any disagreement of these beliefs has needed to be approached very carefully as it would be too easy to tred a dangerous path that has pit brother against brother, mother against daughter, and tainted life long friendships.
So with all that in mind I thought I’d write a review of the recent Warcraft film.
You see the reason I started the review as I did is because, some are inevitably not going to like that which is only my opinion and possibly a guide to those still on the fence. Even the most blinkered “fan boy/girl” has to admit that we are a passionate community and often insist that which we adore should be beyond criticism (I would personally defend Red Dead Redemption til my last breath). I do expect some to disagree with this review and you are welcome to, but keep in mind nothing is perfect.
The transfer of games to film has rarely run smoothly as most of our readers will be painfully aware of because the story telling of both need to be executed in sometimes contrasting ways. I didn’t really want to dissect this film by focusing on how true it is to its source material as I feel that would be giving it too much credit in some areas and not enough in others.
So I will start by saying; no it’s not as bad as some have branded it. In terms of other Blockbusters released so far this year it is certainly a better put together effort than a good number of others. Visually it is stunning, especially the design of each individual Orc. It is clear that much attention was given to their design and it borrows sensibly from a number of sources. Secondly, despite where your current opinion lies, it does appear to offer promise in the story telling department for future installments with its conclusion.
However, it is a film that leaves itself open to attack even more than some of the cookie cutter extras that litter each battle. Firstly, I’m not entirely sure that the studio clearly had an idea who they wanted to appease more with their approach. The film has been criticised by hardcore fans of the series for making noticeable changes to it’s deep lore that offered nothing further to the plot and it was simply not the film they were hoping for. Casual fans, myself included, felt lost in the Ocean of meaningless places, names, and history that were thrown in without context. As one reviewer quipped it feels like the second film in a series rather than the first.
The Lord of The Rings and Star Wars franchises constantly discussed places and people that required us to use our imagination to visualise but had characters discuss them in such a way that even the most rookie level viewer could say “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I understand what you mean”.
Warcraft quickly develops a habit of alienating it’s casual audience members by merely skirting over subjects almost making them an afterthought which does nothing to help you relate to any of the characters. If you’re happy enough knowing that ‘x’ is good and ‘y’ is bad from a confusing or often non existent explanation as to why then this film is right up your street.
In terms of the actual story it is scattered at best. The premise is simple; Orks have destroyed their world so transport themselves to the Human world to survive. The Humans aren’t exactly thrilled to see a horde of hulking invaders make claim to their land. It kicks off.
Of course it’s not as basic as that in it’s execution dangling such juicy tidbits as an ancient and evil power called The Fell, a Guardian of the realm, and an Orc warrior woman who appears to bridge the gap between the warring factions. But again the lack of explanation of key components means that the basics are all you will care about.
How has Gul’dan come to be supreme leader of all the Orc tribes despite possessing none of the qualities they themselves demand they want from a leader?
We know that Medivh is the “Guardian” because we are told so. All evidence in the film points to him being as useful as Ann Frank’s drum kit coasting solely on his reputation so he desperately needed to be fleshed out more.
As for Garona, the Orc “Maiden”, any passing interest in her possibly intricate origins are trampled firmly into the ground as swiftly and dismissively as the revealed real threat.
The pacing of the film does little to aid you as the film often manically cuts between events rapidly without letting you digest what you have witnessed which only adds to the frustration. It is a scatter gun approach to editing that is becoming more commonplace in cinema but drives the plot as poorly as it did in Batman vs Superman.
Stories of Yore
Both the story and editing have the attention span of a 2 year old surrounded by new toys on Christmas morning. Plot lines are inspected and then discarded before being permitted to justify their place or even be properly concluded. One character’s betrayal of another only has accidental consequences for a third but does nothing to further either the betrayer or betrayed in any way.
The last criticism I will make, before steering back to the positives, is sadly the crowning turd of my complaints. The performances of too many of the ensemble is just lazy and truly uninspired. Ben Foster has the demeanour of someone whose main battle is actually staying awake, Paula Patton seems to be constantly irritated by what I can only imagine is underwear invading aggressively from the South, and the usually impressive Dominic Cooper has the grace of a king who attained his position by collecting tokens from special packs of Dwarf Ale and is still wishing he’d taken the Jetski instead.
It’s disappointing mostly because of the performances that director Duncan Jones has drawn from actors in his limited yet impressive back catalogue, especially Sam Rockwell in the exceptional “Moon”.
But enough of the bad because I promised it wasn’t all thus. Poster Orc Durotan and his pregnant mate Draka go a long way to humanise the bestial horde and give an intriguing side to their race making them anything but one dimensional. They are trying to survive rather than conquer, they look for a better place for their families and much of the promise for the sequel(s) arises from this storyline.
Both Clancy Brown’s “Blackhand” and Daniel Wu’s “Gul’dan” fill the screen with menace on every appearance and future villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe should be taking long notes from their demeanour. Despite the lack of explanation as to how Gul’dan became such a threat it is clear he is one and his powers offer the kind of instant threat rarely seen in modern cinema.
The climatic battle that it all builds to is satisfying in its execution, if not stunted in its conclusion. Rather than being a Transformers-esque mess of CGI it at least flirts with some form of fight choreography and offers tension in places. A well advertised showdown between two key characters is not quite as epic but it’s this that makes it just as satisfying for different reasons. It fills me with hope to see that there are film makers who realise that better doesn’t always come from bigger.
Art Of Warcraft
Sequels are likely, and not solely because the enormous success the film enjoyed in the now crucial Chinese market. As the film draws to an end it does so with promise of a bigger story to come, one which will hopefully plug the gaps for the still trying to be initiated and keep their interest high. Fans of the games have been divisive but overall elements of it have met approval.
I will say that I left the cinema very mixed because despite the background lore being treated like a Disney step child it does offer interesting shades of grey to “good and bad” away from the central antagonists. It’s an interesting attempt that I hope fires the starting pistol to better polished efforts. It’s far from perfect and does deserve a lot of the criticism levelled against it. To those still not convinced it does I’ll end with a direct excerpt from the script:
Garona: It is not.
Anduin: Could be.
Garona: It is not.
Anduin: Could be.
Garona: It is not.