Synopsis: Fantasy action adventure based on the Warcraft video game, in which the peaceful realm of Azeroth is invaded by an army of fearsome Orcs
Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Callan Mulvey, Clancy Brown, Robert Kazinsky, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper
Genre: Fantasy / Adventure
Release date: May 30, 2016
Running time: 123 mins
At its peak, the World of Warcraft online game had 12 million players, so a big screen version (first announced ten years ago) must have seemed like a no-brainer.
The numbers have dwindled considerably since then however (to the point where game-makers Blizzard no longer release the figures) but the filmmakers are clearly hoping to tap into the same fantasy fanbase that flock to the likes of Avatar and the Lord of the Rings movies.
A rocky start
Directed by Duncan Jones (making a leap to fantasy epics after the small-scale sci-fi of Moon and Source Code), Warcraft: The Beginning takes place in the peaceful realm of Azeroth, which is under threat from a horde of invading Orcs – led by vicious war chief Blackhand (Clancy Brown) – who are fleeing their own dying world by means of a mystical portal.
Together with an apprentice magician (Ben Schnetzer), warrior Lothar (Vikings’ Travis Fimmel) tries to mount a resistance and finds a pair of unexpected allies in principled Orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and escaped half-human, half-Orc slave Garona (Paula Patton).
Scripted by Jones (a self-confessed fan of the game) and Charles Leavitt, the film gets off to a rocky start with a multitude of main characters to introduce, none of whom make all that good a first impression.
Lothar is effectively a budget Aragorn, while Dominic Cooper’s King seems distinctly unsuited to the task at hand, perhaps because Cooper has played too many shallow cad-types in the past.
However, the film picks up considerably around a third of the way in, with a striking sequence that lends the film some much-needed emotional depth, while the fact that it gives equal weight to the Orc side of the battle adds an intriguing element that pays off nicely.
On a similar note, the quality of the fight scenes improves enormously as the film continues, almost as if Jones and his technical wizards were learning how all the CGI machines worked as they went along.
That said, the motion-capture work is exceptional (the Orcs are like multiple Hulks) and the orc performances are superb, particularly Patton, who perfectly captures Garona’s torn loyalties and emerges as the film’s most interesting character.
Jones’ obvious affection for the sword-and-sorcery genre (think Beastmaster or Ladyhawke) shines through, but the script frequently falters by being altogether too straight-faced and serious.
This problem is highlighted by the fact that the (very) few moments of humour in the film are actually any good.
It has plenty of faults, but Warcraft: The Beginning largely achieves what it sets out to do. Whether we’ll get to see Warcraft: The Middle and Warcraft: The End though remains to be seen.