Dir. Duncan Jones, Script. Charles Leavitt, Duncan Jones
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper; (mo-cap) Toby Kebbell
You might have been confronted with the trailers and posters for Warcraft, the $160m adaptation of the MMORPG that continues a trend of video game movies released three years too late (along with The Angry Birds Movie), and thought that it looked absolutely and totally ludicrous. You may have come to the conclusion that, after seeing the vast array of fantasy creatures, colossal battles and characters with names like northern Welsh towns, it would probably be a Lord Of The Rings knock-off that would require so much exposition you’d fall off your chair and pass out on the cinema floor. And, after heading down to the movie theatre to experience each of Warcraft‘s 123 minutes for all their worth, I can say this: You’d be absolutely right.
The movie’s a mess; it’s full of all of those high fantasy red flags you’re wary of the moment you can even sense them. The first half-an-hour of Warcraft (retitled in the UK and other territories as Warcraft: The Beginning, as if condemning the Earth to more dreaded hours of orc-tacular violence) is a total clusterfuck, flicking between the various human characters and the invading horde as if they pulled somebody’s name out of a hat, such is the randomness of the narrative in the early stages. Within those first scenes, you’ll be introduced to a bunch of roles you can play on the MMORPG – mages and warriors amongst them – as well as a textbook full of mythological mumbo-jumbo which is made even harder to understand through a sound mix seemingly designed for whales. And, in the traditional style of Legendary Entertainment, the source material is treated with reverence befitting the Bible, and the film makes no effort to embrace the fact that Warcraft‘s plot, including dimension-hopping orcs consumed by a magic forged from the life-force of other beings, a noble king called Llane (yes, twice the L’s, twice the laughter) played by the guy from Mamma Mia!, and dialogue that’s more Shakespeare in the slums than in the park, is inherently quite campy. And, worst of all, I enjoyed it.
Hmmm – bit awkward. But before you place a red flag on me, I’m going to try and explain myself (in some ways to myself). I respect the fact that all of those flaws are there – Warcraft is an exposition-filled mess, Warcraft is far too gritty, Warcraft is at times impossible to watch with a straight face. And that’s one of the reasons I kind of went along with the movie; as much as the film’s production company will have tried to avoid a humorous tone, the campiness of Warcraft is so prevalent it is impossible to ignore. And I know that this is a movie where I had to Google most of the characters’ names, with a plot revolving around great big sword vs. hammer battles. But, as the film went on, I grew to realize and accept that I shouldn’t take Warcraft as seriously as its producers had.
And, knowing that I can’t just cite ‘Because I laughed at it’ as a reason for enjoying Warcraft, there are actually more objectively good bits in it than you might think. For a start, the CGI (which a film like this is massively reliant on) is pretty damn good. The orcs themselves look terrific, and the digital environments and crowd-creating technologies (that does look ripped straight from the Hobbit trilogy, true) are equally impressive. Also, the motion-capture work from the actors playing the orcs themselves is commendable, the leader of the pack being Toby Kebbell; his performance as Durotan, an Orc chieftain who attempts to negotiate with the humans his clan are invading, is not his best, but has a surprising bit of gravitas to it. I’d say that Kebbell is now only second to Andy Serkis when it comes to acting underneath hundreds of facial recognition dots, and he makes you sympathise with his character even during the big, sprawling action scenes, which a lot of Warcraft‘s humans seem to struggle with.
The battle sequences themselves are as many as you would expect, and on the whole I actually really enjoyed them. Director Duncan Jones has gone for a visceral, in-your-face approach to the fantasy swordplay that mainly puts you into the battle, rather than giving you a birds eye view of it. The orc punches feel devastating, the scale feels epic, and even the multi-coloured lasers that can only symbolise magical spells don’t feel too out of place either. Jones, the son of the recently passed icon, David Bowie, and one of the most promising directors anywhere right now, doesn’t do his burgeoning reputation too much harm here. While watching the film find the central plot is like watching someone try to shoot a bulls-eye blind from two miles away, once Warcraft finds its feet Jones gets the feel just right, giving Warcraft a great sense of scale while also focusing on the characters driving the plot rather than the other way around.
The acting, I must admit, isn’t the stuff of Academy Award wins – Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer play two mages, older and younger, and while Foster makes his colossally pretentious role as Medivh, Guardian of Azeroth, somewhat believable, Schnetzer reminded me of what would happen if Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones suddenly lost two stone and became hopelessly self-important. Paula Patton plays an orc, that looks stunningly like Gamore from Guardians Of The Galaxy, (I’d call her Gamorca, if I wanted to renounce any credibility I had before today) who is torn between her kind and the humans, except she believes the best way to display this internal conflict is to make increasingly stern faces. As previously mentioned, Dominic Cooper of Mamma Mia! fame is the king of the realm, but demonstrates all of the traits not becoming of such an important man, most hilariously demonstrated when he gets his guards to arrest an imprison one of his soldiers in his cells to ‘calm him down’. That pissed-off protagonist is Sir Anduin Lothar (rejected names included Sir Sid The Slothar, Sir Godzilla v Mothra and Sir I Can Swing My Sword, Sword, Sword, My Diamond Sword-thar), played winningly by the charismatic Travis Fimmel – while his character isn’t that deep, Fimmel fleshes him out for all he’s worth and makes him more than likeable.
To be honest, I enjoyed Warcraft in the way I enjoyed the last Fast & Furious movie – appreciating that most of it was pretty terrible, but pushing it to one side and just having a laugh with it. I do feel like that if your well-versed in the lore of Warcraft (I downloaded Hearthstone once, but apparently that doesn’t count), you’ll have more meat to chew through with this one, but for relative MMORPG aliens such as myself, there’s just enough of a plot and a hilarious amount of huge battle sequences to keep you entertained. If you’re looking for a serious, well-plotted movie with strong characters and themes, then you might as well be in Narnia rather than Azeroth.
BEST WATCHED: Either drunk, or with somebody who gets impassioned about the many functions of orc weaponry and the brilliance of their battle tactics. And drunk.
If Universal have their way and Warcraft does as well in China as people are saying (it’s currently breaking records for Hollywood movies in the now largest cinema-going population in the world), then a sequel may not be too far away, and there’s definitely plans for it as Warcraft ends with a couple of loose threads, and even a credits teaser. Before that though, Travis Fimmel continues to star in the TV show Vikings, available on Amazon Prime, Toby Kebbell has roles in Ben-Hur (mentioned it in my Me Before You review; still looking terrible) as well as Kong: Skull Island with Oscar-holder Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston.