An invading army of Orcs threatens the peaceful nation of Azeroth.
So here it is finally – a movie based in the Warcraft universe. It’s a franchise birthed by Blizzard Entertainment more than 20 years ago initially for a series of real time strategy games before becoming a massive success with MMO World of Warcraft.
The good news is that you don’t need to know anything about the games to get involved in this big budget feature from Moon director Duncan Jones, which might manage to capture the attention of fantasy fans around the world.
This is a tale of two opposing races but one which takes time to give both nuance. There’s some solid drama here, which is quite an achievement when half the cast is green and made of digital effects.
In fact, the Orc-ish charactes are generally more interesting than their human counterparts, particularly leading greenie Durotan, played via performance capture by great Brit actor Toby Kebbell.
He’s got emotion to spare, with subtle facial expressions and a personal journey which forces him to question the ferocious loyalty to his own people and the very rules of Orc society. He might be one of the best CG characters ever created.
The humans are foiled by some unconvincing cartoonish costumes and being given little enough to do. The live action casting is scrappy at best – Travis Fimmel (Vikings) can’t land the gags he’s been given and young Ben Schnetzer makes for a dull mage. The likes of Ben Foster and Paula Patton are trying hard but he’s a bit young for the role and her teeth are simply distracting.
Still it’s clear a lot of hard work has gone into getting Warcraft made, it’s just a shame that much of it looks so generic. The designs of the cities, armour, even the magical effects are lacking in punch or verve, and the extraordinary detail of something like The Lord of the Rings movies is sorely missed.
It’s not that anything on offer here is particularly bad, it’s all watchable and occasionally spectacular, but there are no standout scenes. The plot stumbles along, the characters do their thing. Fights happen in a gritty fashion without any distinguishing style.
Making massive movies must be a very difficult job and it takes a certain kind of filmmaker to bring any personality to a film of this scale. That has proven beyond the abilities of Jones, who can’t seem to decide where to place his emphasis, letting epic moments pass and lingering in lacklustre exposition.
There’s also a serious problem with the ending, mostly because the film is reaching so desperately for a sequel that it simply forgets to finish off this first story. Dangling the odd cliffhanger is fine, but this feature pretty much breaks off right in the middle of a tale, and there’s no guarantee we’ll ever get to see it end.
Warcraft is a watchable fantasy effort for the most part, with plenty of solid scenes and few truly terrible ones. It’s not clear if game fans will be interested in its rather cursory dive into the lore, and newcomers might baulk at the jolly green characters, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it fares at the box office. If nothing else, the performance capture is absolutely stunning.