Friday, June 10, 2016

Zaki's Review: Warcraft

Full disclosure: I've never played the Warcraft or World of Warcraft video games. I've never read the novels or comics. I've never played the collectible card game. When it comes to this brand, despite its twenty-plus year presence (a lifetime!) as part of the pop culture ether, I'm a complete neophyte to the Blizzard Entertainment property. I feel like that bit of context might be helpful as I walk you through my utterly baffled reaction to Universal Studios' big budget adaptation directed by Duncan Jones (whose Moon and Source Code I remain a pretty big fan of).

My understanding is that Jones comes to the feature version (which finally arrives after ten long years in the development pipeline) as a longtime fan of the franchise, and that much is surely plain to see. In fact, that may be the very thing that so bogs it down. The film is so steeped in adoration for its source material that I have no doubt the same faithful who've kept the brand alive for all these years will luxuriate in every Easter Egg and snarky aside. But for anyone coming in cold, the mythology is impenetrable, the effects are lackluster, and the performances are mannered to the point of distraction.

Beginning with a prologue set in the "present" of the world of Warcraft, we're told how the races of orc and men have been at war for many, many years now. But it didn't always used to be this way, as we learn when we jump back an indeterminate number of years to the beginning of the conflict. With their home world dying, the race of orcs, snaggle-toothed giants brandishing clubs and other smashy weapons, cross a dimensional breach to the the lush and luxurious world of Azeroth, where the various factions are ruled by benevolent King Llane (Dominic Cooper).

The orcs are led by the evil sorcerer Gul'Dan (Daniel Wu), who uses a green magic called "fel" that drains the life from all it encounters, and who seeks to conquer Azeroth for his own nefarious ends. To stop that from happening, it's all up to heroic Lothar (Travis Fimmel), alongside his bumbling mage-in-training sidekick Khadgar (Ben Shetzger) and Mahdiv (Ben Foster), the magician tasked with protecting Azeroth, to forge an alliance with good-hearted orcs like Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and stop their land from being destroyed. 

Honestly, it's all such an incomprehensible mess that even typing up that synopsis took real effort. And mind you, it's not like I'm unwilling to sample something new, but that's the key: Give us something new. What we have here instead is a warmed-over rehash of things that have already been done better over the past several decades of fantasy fiction. Heck, I went into the first Lord of the Rings in 2001 completely unfamiliar with the books, but it didn't take long at all for that opus to win me over. I kept hoping for some kind of on-ramp in the screenplay by Jones and Charles Leavitt to welcome me in, but none ever materialized.

So in the absence of that, we're left to puzzle over some business about blue magic and green magic (blue is good, green is bad) while watching the listless, lackadaisical performances from the live and motion-captured actors. Fimmel's whispered, non-specific accent seems to be channeling a Mortal Kombat-era Christopher Lambert, while Foster is practically somnambulant as the wizard who knows more than he's saying. But no one appears more miserable than Paula Patton, saddled with green skin and two fangs jutting from her lower lip as the orc-human hybrid Garona, who looks like there's literally anywhere else on this Earth she'd rather be.

From a director who got such an impressive start as Duncan Jones, the disappointment of Warcraft feels even more acute. The film is so indentured to its own voluminous backstory that I have to imagine the experience of watching it is a lot like being stuck in the middle of a bunch of folks playing the game. They might have an absolute blast spelunking through the wreckage of this mess, but for anyone else, it's a noisy, nonsensical dumpster fire of a movie that's so spectacularly wrongheaded you start wondering how a studio ever signed off on it. D

For more movie talk, including my interview with Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, check out the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast at this link or via the embed below:

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