Director Duncan Jones’ (Moon, Source Code) latest film, Warcraft, will probably fall short of winning the domestic box office this weekend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it lacks ambition. Coming from a “high fantasy” genre and based on the most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game ever created, Jones’ new film saw a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed for fans and critics alike if he ever wanted to help Legendary/ Universal earn a return on their $160 million investment. The director tries to break new ground in the fantasy film genre by providing both points of view from either side of the “war” and depicting characters who wield magic for extended action sequences. While fans of the Blizzard Studios game may find this pleasing, casual blockbuster fans probably won’t appreciate this detail. In the battle of horror sequel vs. thriller sequel vs. game adaptation this weekend, remember that game adaptations have never really found an audience (or a sequel) and that horror rarely loses.
Warcraft struggles to find a fully-defined protagonist because the director prioritizes giving both sides of a fictional war their due-and-proper instead of following a traditional narrative structure. Although Australian actor Travis Fimmel (“Vikings,” The Baytown Outlaws) receives top billing in his role as the brave knight Anduin, a human being doesn’t enter the frame until at least ten minutes into the film. Instead, Jones focuses on the race of orcs before introducing the protagonist. Meeting a few orcs first shows the audience that not all orcs are evil before falling in with the good guys immediately. However, each following orc scene that doesn’t concern fighting essentially becomes a variation of the first.
If a viewer goes into Warcraft expecting the obvious good vs. evil conflict, Jones makes sure the audience leaves knowing war in general has shades of gray and that both sides have good guys and bad guys. It should be easier to follow the movie with a plot as easy as orcs who colonize another land called Azeroth while facing an apocalyptic event, spark war with the people who already live there. The simple plot gets made confusing due to an emphasis on perpetually examining both sides of a single conflict. Sure, there’s some exciting war craft (no pun intended) woven throughout, but the plot turns into a short-paced anti-war fantasy situation. Whether or not the director likes it, the orcs, despite their humanoid stature, wind up as “the bad guys” for several reasons: Anduin as the protagonist steers the viewer toward the side of people, one prominent human character makes a significant sacrifice, and the primary antagonist is an orc.
British actor Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) stands out among the cast as the orc Durotan and really has the only chance to flesh a full performance outside of Paula Patton’s (Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire) role of Garona the half-orc. Durotan has suspicions about the orc elders that put him directly at odds with his race’s survival. It’s a universally human arc that always comes out in spades as a fantasy theme. Kebbell has gained a reputation for his talent in motion-capture performing with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now adds to his resume with another solid, emotional mo-cap role in Warcraft.
Although Warcraft tries and fails to please all masters, it luckily features plenty of angry, aggressive characters which lead to a sufficient amount of bright, exciting 3D sequences transcending depth with game-changing CGI. The source material carries too much of its own mythology here to cram into a blockbuster whose credits roll before the two-hour mark while examining both sides of an incredibly fictional war. It simply isn’t fair to long-time fans or a viewer trying to immerse him- or herself in the movie theater experience. A big-budget, televised series on premium cable along the lines of “Game of Thrones” certainly would better lend itself to the long list of characters, multiple themes, and deep mythology the movie attempts to accomplish in one sitting. For a movie that looks like Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars prequels, Warcraft fails to find an earned emotional quality in its plot. It never reaches the epic high of Gandalf charging forth at dawn with the Riders of Rohan, staff and sword extended toward battle, but is never so boring as to completely alienate the audience.