Cast: Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer, Toby Kebbell, Anna Galvin, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Daniel Wu
Director: Duncan Jones
The fantasy world of Azeroth faces an invasion of a deadly army of orcs from another dimension. They are led by an evil sorcerer named Guldan (Daniel Wu). Humans are led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), his brother-in-law Lothar (Traveis Fimmel), guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) and a rebel mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). To combat Guldan and his hordes, they form an alliance with two renegade orcs: Durotan (Toby Kebbell), a peaceable warchief who dislikes the evil magic of Guldan and Garona (Paula Patton), a former slave of Guldan who can speak the language of humans.
Videogame movies almost never translate what made the original games interesting to an audience that never played them, and inevitably disappoint the part of the audience that has played these games. Warcraft, a fantasy strategy game series of multiple factions and alliances, somehow becomes a rare exception. This is an entertaining fantasy movie, which tells a story of multiple characters, with a complex, intricate theme conveyed with clarity and depth.
Warcraft’s plot is simple — humans versus orcs — but what makes it interesting is the way the screenplay manages to thread multiple stories into the main plot without losing focus. Lothar, the main human warrior, is the main character but he shares enough room for more interesting characters to shine. Among them are — King Llane, charismatically embodied by Dominic Cooper, Khadgar and Medivh, apprentice and sorcerer respectively. Paula Patton’s Garona is possibly the most complex and compelling character of the story, caught between two worlds, orc and human and not entirely fitting in either world.
The orcs are mostly disappointing, a bunch of Mongol stereotypes, who usually play stock bad guys in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings but Warcraft attempts to make them serious characters and with the exception of Garona (who is not entirely an orc), they end up being clichés of benign or malign nature. The villain, Guldan, ends up being the most impressive and compelling orc, a sign of the film’s failure to properly make orcs complex characters.
Visually the key weakness is the special effects of the spell magic scenes. They are weird blue and green lights and while I am told that this is faithful to the videogames, I do wish that the film improved on this. Light-based spell magic should look more impressive than the not-quite-smoke, not-quite-fire and not-quite-light approach taken by this film, which ends up creating blobs of blues and greens that results in ugliness cluttering up the screen. In fact, the battle scenes are not as good as the character scenes, coming as it does post-Lord of the Rings, they cannot help but look repetitive even if it has elements (like knights with flintlock pistols) that are original to the usual cod-medieval formula.
The staging of the mid-level fight scenes is better. One tense battle between the heroes and a Golem, a living statue, is suitably tense and exciting, and the two trial by combat sequences we see, duels between challenging characters is very well done in terms of the interplay of emotion and action.
Warcraft is essentially about the strangeness of tribalism, the difficulty for any complex being to commit and define themselves to a single idea and faction, the recognition of commonalities between individuals across factions, and the strange moments of accidental sympathy that occasionally arises between foes. It is to the credit of Duncan Jones, the writers, and the actors (especially Paula Patton and Dominic Cooper) to convey such complex ideas visually, by proper staging and editing, and allow room for ambiguity, mystery and tragedy to have some breathing space in a blockbuster story.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society...