WARCRAFT - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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So, we’re almost at the halfway point for movie year 2016. Since we’re a few weeks into the Summer flick season, the studios are trying to hedge their bets (and investments) by delivering entertainment with a recognizable name. There’s been a glut of sequels (two this very weekend), and two franchise films based on comic book characters (Cap’s latest is the year’s biggest hit). Hmmm, what other properties are ripe for cinematic exploitation? Ah yes, games! Just a few weeks ago ANGRY BIRDS, an animated romp based on an “app”, grabbed the number one box office slot from the shield-slinger! And this weekend sees a live action/CGI-animated hybrid based on an immensely popular on-line video game that began 22  years ago. Now, the studios have been trying to lure game players into the multiplex for years, well over twenty since those SUPER MARIO BROTHERS made the big bounce to live action back in 1993. STREET FIGHTER and MORTAL KOMBAT soon followed to so-so interest. WING COMMANDER, DOOM, and HALO were also adapted in the remaining years, but nothing really translated with great numbers. Now Universal is hoping that audiences will “log out” and embrace a non-interactive adventure set in that popular “cyber-world” of WARCRAFT.
The story begins with two orcs (savage human-like behemoths with pointed ears and protruding tusk-like fangs) from the world of Durotar named Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and Draka (Anna Galvin) who eagerly await the birth of their child. But duty calls when they become part of the sorcerer Gul’dan’s (Daniel Wu) invading forces. He has found a way to open a magic portal to the human world, Azeroth. There they will capture the residents and use their collected life force to power multiple portals, so that the orcs and their allies can take over the new world, since their home planet is dying. But a young human apprentice wizard named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) alerts King Llane Wyrynn (Dominic Cooper), who is also head of the Alliance with elves, dwarfs, and other races. The good king sends his most trusted warrior (and brother-in-law), Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel)  to engage the help of the veteran wizard Medivh (Ben Foster) AKA the “Guardian”. When Lothar’s men are attacked by an orc platoon, they take an orc prisoner, a woman shunned by her society who seems nearly human, named Garona (Paula Patton). Eventually she becomes a friend to Lothar, but Garona is not alone in her sympathies. Durotan believes that Gul’dan has been driven mad by his magics. The only hope for both worlds rests on the defeat of the powerful crazed sorcerer before his plan comes to fruition.

A very talented cast is almost overwhelmed by the almost nonstop mayhem. That they’re not drowned out by the constant “sound and fury” is a testament to their considerable skills. Fimmel is a stoic, sturdy action star who may be on the road to a solid film career after his star-making turn on TV’s “The Vikings”. Foster does his best to add some world-weary gravitas to the grim guardian, but is hampered the character’s hazy motivations. Patton is able to project a sultry exotic sexuality, despite the ludicrous fangs that make her look like a late, late show cavegirl (they don’t aid her line delivery, either). The compelling Cooper (Tony Stark’s pop in the 1940’s) is given little to do aside from looking concerned and inspiring his troops into battle (he does look great in that nifty lion’s-head helmet). Schnetzer (PRIDE) brings a great deal of energy to his eager, but untested spell-caster. “Motion-capture” actors Kebbell (so good as the villain Koba in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES), Galvin, Wu, and screen vet Clancy Brown are able to emote expertly despite their often clunky CGI masks and coverings.
I harbored high hopes for this flick when I learned that the very talented young director Duncan Jones was at the helm (his SOURCE CODE was a dandy B-flick delight) while collaborating on the script with Charles Leavitt. Unfortunately the finished product (yeah, more of a product than a film) is a loud, over-stuffed, incoherent, cluttered mess. Perhaps the producers thought that the ‘scope” would placate and even satisfy the games’ many fans. For those of us going in “cold”, the pixels and people seem like half-baked retreads from Peter Jackson’s Tolkien trilogies (which wore out their fans with that third HOBBIT “cash-grab”). Many times we’re just reminded of much better fantasy flicks (“boom-sticks” made me yearn for ARMY OF DARKNESS). The CGI effects and designs are adequate (the orcs were “mini-hulks” while their modes of transport, packs of big fluffy wolves, look like they dashed in from the final TWILIGHT movie). A scorecard is almost needed to keep track of characters, while the banging, bombastic score by Ramin Djawadi is migraine-inducing (the lackluster 3D adds much to the discomfort). The flick lumbers on from battle to battle, wearing the viewer down as if we’re slogging it out with the pixel beasties. It’s two-hour running time feels like a tiresome trilogy. Then, when it appears the blessed end arrives, we’re given an epilogue that rips off Moses (yeah, the Superman origin does that too). Mr. Jones, this is a prime example of when “bad films happen to good people”. On to more worthy efforts! My rating is for the many skilled craftspeople who spent weeks and months staring at their computer screens. May your talents outlast the memory of the dismal, deadly dull WARCRAFT.
1/2 Out of 5


Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.


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