Normally, when I see a filmmaker I really like stretch himself/herself and attempt something new, I get excited. Duncan Jones blew me away with his debut Moon and easily made himself two for two with Source Code. Now, he’s adapted the video game “World of Warcraft for the big screen, and the end result Warcraft decidedly does not make him three for three. A poor film on its own, it also represents a huge disappointment for Jones, who seemed to have the enthusiasm and skills to potentially make the first great movie out of a game. It’s probably important to note that I really don’t care for the fantasy genre more often than not, so Warcraft was immediately at a disadvantage. Yes, I’ve been thumbs down on every Lord of the Rings outing, and so on, but no matter how you slice it, this isn’t a good piece of cinema. It looks amazing, but it’s absolutely hollow and spends far too much time building a world with a silly plot that no one in their right mind will care about. There’s very little fun to be had and it only works as a visual spectacle, but at over two hours long, that’s not a formula that works.
This is the type of film where you can’t even begin to remember names, so faces (or at least non CGI ones) will have to do. I looked up character names for you though, dear reader, so I now can pretend to have remembered that this is the origin of a fight between humans and orcs on the world of Azeroth. The latter has basically invaded the former’s world in order to escape theirs, entering through a portal and causing all sorts of violent havoc. Soldier Durotan (Toby Kebbell) doesn’t necessarily believe in this violence, and just wants a better world for his wife Draka (Anna Galvin) and soon to be son. Other orcs like leader Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) have dominance on their minds, which brings us to human soldier Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), who is basically Durotan’s mirror. He serves his royal leaders (Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga), though what his true entry into the fight is when an orc slave who happens to be half human (Paula Patton) comes into his presence. Cue big battles, magic, and chaos, which doesn’t even include a human wizard (Ben Foster) with plans of his own. In case you were wondering, no, it doesn’t really make a lick of sense, but boy is it ever taken seriously.
There isn’t a single performance to take note of here, as everyone is drowned by both the visuals and the wooden dialogue. Toby Kebbell is experienced enough in this sort of motion capture work that he’s about as comfortable as to be expected, but there’s no humanity to be found. Kebbell isn’t bad, but it’s the CGI doing the work more so than anything of his ding. On the other hand, Paula Patton is stuck in some very odd makeup, not so much looking like a cross between a human and an orc as much as just a bad cosplayer. Patton is better than this. Travis Fimmel does his best impersonation of a Charlie Hunnam impersonator, while the Preacher duo of Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga are wasted. Ben Foster hams it up, but even he can’t really have the fun he wants to here. In addition to the aforementioned Clancy Brown, Anna Galvin, and Daniel Wu, the cast includes Robert Kazinsky, a Glenn Close cameo, and more. Again, it’s all just a waste though.
Jones is a supremely talented director, there’s no question about that, but even he can’t make this work. Everything he did on Moon to make it feel bigger than its budget yet appropriately intimate fails in Warcraft. It’s not even his visuals, as the direction is about what you’d expect for a fantasy epic, it’s the screenplay Jones co-wrote with Charles Leavitt. Not only is it abrasively self serious and reverential to a video game’s mythology, it can’t even find an interesting story to tell. Jones and Leavitt have an over-plotted mess on their hands and just drown it in CGI. I will admit that the CGI is excellent, but it’s mostly lipstick on a big here. I hope Jones moves on to his lower budget passion project Mute soon as opposed to a Warcraft sequel, since we deserve better from him.
Overall, Warcraft is only mildly redeemed by impressive visuals and likely can only entertain die-hard fantasy fans and devotees of the online game. I mostly just feel bad for Jones, who falls a bit on his face with what might have been an impossible mission. He’ll recover and go back to being one of my favorite young filmmakers, but this is a definite black mark on his résumé. Warcraft is very nearly a complete boondoggle, but it’s unquestionable a failure for Jones and company. Alas.
Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!