2 June 2016

Warcraft: The Beginning review

If the last 23 years have taught us anything, it's that it may be impossible to make a good film based on a video game. Every attempt to date has resulted in failure, without exception - even the somehow-long-running Resident Evil film franchise is nothing more than a series of duds, and they may actually be the closest we've got to "tolerable". It's impossible to say why this might be the case - you'd think the law of averages alone would have given us something decent by now - but the fact is that we're yet to see a good film that is based on a video game, and Warcraft: The Beginning doesn't manage to change that.

Opening up on the home world of the orcs, Warcraft: The Beginning initially follows Durotan, an orc war chief, as he and his people invade the kingdom of Azeroth using a magic called the Fel in order to escape their own dying world. From that point on we swap between Durotan and Anduin Lothar, a human military commander, as the war between orcs and humans is waged, which slowly sees Durotan begin to turn against his own people thanks to the way that the Fel (controlled by an orc named Gul'dan) has corrupted them.

To it's credit, Warcraft: The Beginning fully embraces it's status as a high fantasy romp, and from that perspective it's hard not to admire the confidence with which it presents itself. I've complained in the past about films that seem ashamed of the thing on which they are based, but you can rest assured that this isn't the case here - I'd be willing to bet that director Duncan Jones is a huge fan of World of Warcraft, simply thanks to how much he seems to love the characters, the story and the world in which it is set. As someone who knows nothing about World of Warcraft it's impossible for me to talk about how accurate to the game this actually is, but after seeing it I find it hard to imagine Warcraft: The Beginning being anything other than the most faithful of adaptations.

And that will no doubt please fans of the game in a big way, but it's also going to leave the vast majority of people cold. Warcraft: The Beginning is all too happy to assume that it's audience have a strong knowledge of World of Warcraft, leaving huge gaps in the story that are not explained at any point within the film itself. At one point we are introduced to a huge cube that interacts with a certain character in what looks like an important way - but what the cube is, what it actually did and (most importantly) why it's relevant to us remains a mystery, as do a lot of details that might help us make sense of these character, the world they inhabit and the rules it abides by.

In a similar vein, the aforementioned high fantasy setting that will be sure to please fans of the game won't win over many people who aren't. Unfortunately for Warcraft: The Beginning we live in a post-Game of Thrones society, and I can't see people embracing the colourful, vibrant, high magic Azeroth in the same way they have the grounded, gritty, low magic Westeros. It's just a question of taste in a lot of ways, but I'd find it difficult to argue with someone that called Warcarft: The Beginning "cheesy" - it certainly adheres to an aesthetic that seems dated at best and just childish at worst.

But Warcraft: The Beginning's most glaring problems come in the same forms that you've seen a hundred times before in a hundred other movies. It's the other side of the coin when it comes to Duncan Jones' love for this property - he seems to have prioritised accuracy to the game over what would best suit the film, and in doing so has created a poorly paced, mostly nonsensical film full of characters that no one could ever care about. With the exception of orc war chief Durotan (the only interesting character in the entire movie), everyone in Warcraft: The Beginning is purely one-dimensional, more clich├ęs in costume than they are actual characters. Even worse, some of the actors seem to know that - Dominic Cooper in particular is sleepwalking through his entire performance, making an already dull character completely lifeless.

And yet in spite of all that I found myself sort of intrigued by Warcraft: The Beginning thanks to the sheer potential it contains. Yes, the majority of it simply doesn't work, but there's the odd moment that does a lot to humanise some of the characters (mainly the orcs), and some of the action is actually pretty good, especially when considering that the vast majority of it is pure CGI. I can't help but feel that the directors cut might fix a lot of the issues that Warcraft: The Beginning suffers from - an extra 40 minutes or so (the amount that was said to be cut for the theatrical release) could really help flesh out the world and characters while also letting the story breathe a little more, but how much that might actually matter remains to be seen,

Regardless, this hypothetical directors cut isn't the film I'm reviewing, and as such I simply can't recommend Warcraft: The Beginning to anyone other than the most hardcore World of Warcraft fans. Unless Warcraft: The Beginning somehow makes a surprising amount of money - which it won't - that subtitle is going to continue to resemble the punchline of a particularly unfortunate joke for a very long time, and I'd hate to see it put an end to Duncan Jones' otherwise incredibly promising career. As I've said before, a bad film is a bad film, but a film that jeopardises the career of a talented director? That's the real shame.

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