"Warcraft" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 123 minutes
Directed by Duncan Jones / Written by Duncan Jones & Charles Leavitt
Review by: JJ Mortimer
A passionately made but retardedly-written fantasy epic, Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment's film adaptation of the wildly popular video game series) sports amazing visual effects, costumes, and production design, but despite their efforts to create something out of a derivative subject matter with little cinematic value, writer/director Duncan Jones and his crew cram too much into a narrative that will cause the majority of viewers to turn to each other and ask, "Just what the fuck is going on here?"
I've been a fan of Warcraft for a large portion of my life. As far back as my high school days, I envisioned what the game would look like in cinema form, even going so far as to write out a synopsis for a three-part film series and attaching film makers to their productions (journals and sketches I still have to this day). Needless to say, I relished the day would come when I would finally see what Hollywood could make of such a lucrative fantasy franchise, even if I had to make it myself.
Then The Lord of the Rings came out and blew the fantasy genre out of the park. Then Game of Thrones came along, and fantasy was no longer just a childish thing, but also an adult-themed, "grown up" property that proved drama could be mined from sources other than just the Holocaust or the Middle East. The problem here is that Warcraft, being clearly influenced by the works of Tolkien and other fantasy writers and artists, comes at the heels of these more professionally-made properties and can't help but feel even more derivative. because of it.
At least it's not as bad as 2000s Dungeons & Dragons, but in a couple human-related scenes, it gets damn close. The movie feels like, of the twelve (yes, twelve!) producers on the film, six did it with a legitimate intent on making a good, epic fantasy motion picture. The other six decided to make it because they lost a bet.
The acting in Warcraft actually isn't all that bad, minus one minor....well, major...issue: All the actors needed British accents. There's just something about fantasy and British twang to language that sells cheese better than Dominoes Pizza, making all the mythology sound more legit. But Warcraft instead insists that its actors all speak with their normal voices, like some dudes from Wisconsin drove to the set in their expensive Halloween costumes and started spouting a plethora (yes, plethora) of names and places that haven't been established or introduced, leading me to feel that the words they were saying were just "randomly generated fantasy sounds coming out of the actors' mouths." In fact, in earlier scenes, it almost sounds as though a couple of the actors attempt British accents for about two sentences, and then said, "Fuck it, it worked fine for Kevin Costner to change halfway through Robin Hood."
Actor Travis Fimmel as our lead human hero, Anduin Lothar, actually attempts to act his ass off and give the empty dialogue some emotion and brevity, but unfortunately no time is spent with any one theme, thought, or coherent creative intention to give any of his words the heart that they deserved. Fimmel often feels out of place in the movie, like he's willingly trying to act himself magically into next Sunday's Game of Thrones episode. His attempts are humor are also evident but minor, as with a few of the other actors, who also all try desperately to make the audience care about what is happening with a seriousness that pays homage to the source material and its mouth-agaped fans, but comes across as too jokey for any other audience members intelligent enough to have made it past the condensed version of Shakespeare's Hamlet in ninth grade English.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is a marvel. Parent visual effects powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic has gone to great strides to bridge the "uncanny valley," and with this film they've come as close to succeeding as any other movie to date. The first shot of our hero orc, Durotan (played excellently in motion capture by Toby Kebbell), is emotive and damn-near photo-realistic, on par or better than the work Weta Digital created with Gollum, or Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The motion capture, the green screen work, the environments, the cities and towns, the production design and set construction - all of it looks rich and big budget, but...something is slightly askew...
The lighting on this goddamn movie. For better or for worse, the film version of Warcraft looks JUST LIKE the video game version of World of Warcraft. For better - the film looks like it was pulled straight from the video game, easily immersing fans into the world that they've spent countless hours ignoring their children in. For worse - it looks like it was pulled straight from the video game. In many scenes, the shots are so over-lit that the lush, sound stage sets come across looking like more cartoon-y versions of the Ridley Scott-directed Legend, with many scenes of the humans in costumes looking like they are acting in a homemade fan film, or a cheaper version of a live-action advertisement for a fantasy video game. I've never seen something that was made to look so good end up looking so cheesy only because the director of photography insisted the moonlight be as bright as ten 4000k fluorescent lamps shining down onto the actors' heads and surrounding environment. And for fuck's sake, some of the green screen vista shots of actor's close ups were lit completely different from the outdoor environment (and time of day) surrounding them. Some of the shots had that air of George Lucas "Oh I'll just click this button here and turn this interior library shot into an exterior exploding volcano shot." Because fuck consistent lighting.
The battle scenes are the highlight of this film - thankfully, considering it has the word "war" in its title. But, again, the stakes are lowered because there isn't much to care about with the cliche' and relatively paper-thin caricatures of obvious fantasy character roles. There are a few highlights and a few moderately dramatic moments, mainly because the visual effects and production design are mostly amazing, but at the end of the day, the lack of heart and subtlety make for many of the scenes feeling tacked on without any real care in placement throughout the narrative plot line.
And then fucking Glenn Close shows up for twenty seconds as some black-hooded spectre. Who the hell paid in human sacrifice to get a multi-Oscar-nominated actress in this film? Seriously, I want to know who lied to her and told her it wasa script for a Game of Thrones episode and that her role would net her an Emmy award. I want to fucking know what lies were told to her, or what favor she owed her grandson in order for him to be known as the kid whose grandmother was in his friends' favorite grade-ruining game-turned-movie.
Usually I don't notice errors or holes in stories right away while watching a film unless they are blatant, but Jesus forgive me, because this film has some plot holes the size of King Kong's asshole:
- The orcs come to the human world through a giant green portal, introducing themselves to the human for the first time. The humans have no idea what to call them, proving that both races are from two completely different worlds (proved true by the half-orc, half-whatever green chick who looks up at a ceiling map and says her world isn't from anywhere around those parts). So, why do the orcs know so much about the humans but the humans know so little about the orcs?
- Why is the green bitch looking like a half-human, half-orc hybrid if the orcs haven't had any contact with humans? She claims that a human breeding with an orc would kill the human (or break all of his bones or some shit, proving that she must have a back breaker of a twerk). Unless her mother was a black widow and killed some errant human traveling in orc lands after raping him to create the most hated half-breed child in all of the land, then her knowing so much about human tongue makes no fucking sense whatsoever.
- How does the green chick speak English??
- Why are the humans so quick to trust both the green chick and the young wizard dude when they both, not a few scenes earlier, were clear threats?
- Why do the humans have such a large army (legions of men, it is described) when the only clear threat that is established in the film is the orc army that just magically appeared in their realm?
- Again, what was Glenn Close doing in this movie?
If you say any of these things can be answered in an Appendice-style backstory outside of the movie and in the video game lore, you can go fuck yourself. All of this needed to at least be hinted at in the movie or marginally explained for anyone who doesn't know the story. Shit, I've played the Warcraft games for many years and I still turned to the nobody in the empty chair sitting next to me and imaginatively said "I have no idea just what the fuck is going on here."
Look, I didn't hate Warcraft. For much of the first half I was marginally entertained, hoping the confusion of names and terms would turn into something understandable or relatable. I could actually feel the passion behind the project, like everyone involved really wanted this film to be good. The problem is the film makers (namely, the producers) spent too much time paying fan service rather than creating a coherent story. The film is about a decade too late, and released at a time that benefits its technical aspects (the CGI wasn't good enough ten years ago, apparently) rather than riding on the coattails of the video game's height in popularity.
Warcraft needed to be something smaller, I felt. The very first shot of the film, of a "present day" scene (in Warcraft terms) at the Crossroads, of a single human soldier picking up a fallen ally's shield in preparation to square off with a single orc tells a story far better in a word-less action shot than any other scene in the entire film, and made me ache for a film that was more quiet, with less dude-and-nerd-sounding lines of dialogue and more subtle, emotive scenes that make us care more about the lead human characters and the lead orc characters. Doing so would have made their inevitable collisions (and/or demise) have more heft and punch to the outcomes.
From a technical standpoint, Warcraft is a cheesy visual effects masterpiece with sloppy editing and lighting with a surprising and respected use of both practical and computer-generated props and scenery. The CGI was at times so good I couldn't tell if some of what I saw was real or not. Ramin Djawadi's musical score is heavy, bombast, and decently catchy. The costumes are spot-on with the game's designs, and despite their often Velveeta look, the sets are welcome in their fake "realness." Too many scenes are brushed through, giving little coherence to continuity or actor placement. Travis Fimmel and Ben Foster both act the shit out of what they were given, and that, at least, has to be commended. Overall, the film is full of missed opportunities - too many to list here in this overlong complaint of a review. This movie needed to be good, but instead this is what we got - a movie for people to ridicule for years to come.
Otherwise, unless you are 14 or a fan of the World of Warcraft video game, or if you give a shit about coherence in cinematic plot lines, then Warcraft is probably a skip. Go home and watch the extended versions of Lord of the Rings instead.