Director: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Charles Leavitt, Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu
Runtime: 123 Minutes
There is something devastatingly cinematic about AAA Titles in the modern video game market. Likely it’s down to the mediums graphical capabilities improving to the point where it can notably imitate its more popular cinematic cousin. The cinematic animation sequences of World of Warcraft (WoW) are prime examples of this trend; a ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) with huge world building ambitions, where the general storyline tends to fall to the wayside of its more significant gameplay antics.
The primary issue with video game adaptations doesn’t necessarily come down to their faithfulness to the original concept in terms of visualisation and tone, but rather the lack of incorporation of the main drive of a videogames mechanics and the mediums construction. Sadly, Duncan Jones’ Warcraft is yet another titan of the AAA circuit that has fallen prey to this untranslatable issue.
Make no mistake though, Warcraft is a good movie. The amount of pure passion being poured onto the screen in every intricately detailed frame is proof, if nothing else, of the incredible amount of affection that its makers have for the original source material. The very nature of its gameplay being so basically incorporated in a way that many can grasp is itself a bonus which allows the film to sidestep this digression, somewhat.
Duncan Jones has taken some huge leaps in his relatively short career from the humble origins of his passion project Moon, but the scale of the production and his mastery over the incorporated elements is something to be admired. The fight sequences are shot and framed with a gorgeous sense of real urgency without ever losing track of the action, and its character and costume designs are distinctive and colourful enough to allow for enough diversity to keep the eye roving the screen.
The Orc clans that open the story in their quest for a new world are probably the most visually interesting and enjoyable presences in the entire film. Giant hands, teeth and hammers galore, these are the kind of classic fantasy creatures you just don’t get any more, let alone being rendered with stunningly detailed motion capture photography courtesy of performers Toby Kebbell and Robert Kazinsky. It’s a shame then that the film doesn’t have figures as strong to challenge them when they’re off-screen.
Its human performances vary from decent to lunatic on a scale of quality. In particular Paula Patton and Ben Foster treading a delicate line of hammy sincerity, while our very own Dominic Cooper appears both lost and enthralled by his surroundings at all times as the human king. Travis Fimmel of Vikings fame might be the leading hero of the piece but he barely registers beyond the occasional moment where the films own absurdity gets the better of itself and he’s forced to react.
In so many ways it might be the literal definition of a film that splits opinion into so many different levels. On the one hand, it’s overstuffed with too many main characters fighting for screen time with hurriedly explained plot lines, on the other it’s rare to see this much depth and attention paid to such a large and diverse cast without the benefit of predetermined knowledge of how important they are in their world.
The film is tightly cut and edited which quickens the pace, but sacrifices a lot of the narrative fat and substance required to keep one engaged with the characters and their motivations. It feels as though somewhere around the edges of this production that the studio has been interfering, pushing for franchise bait instead of allowing the film to evolve on its own merits, so it feels very much like the first act of a larger story overall - which is a terrible pity considering that the film might not even get that justice at this point in time.
The truth of the matter is that Warcraft was going to get a critical pummelling regardless of its standing as a video game adaptation. Comparisons to Disney’s John Carter will be drawn immediately, as the film throws you into the deep end of its lore and constantly expects you to catch up with its multiple narrative strands. But there are strong themes at play here involving the nature of war, fatherhood, the importance of family and the corruption of power, even if the subtext does appear to lie obviously upon its narrative.
As well as moments of glorious spectacle in which its full post-Tolkien glory bursts from the scream in a flurry of hammer-dropping vision, there are quieter moments of ironic comedy at the expense of its own wonderfully embraced silliness. It’s just not as memorable or effective as it needs to be in order to carry it through to the success that it will no doubt require for the studio.