Azeroth Beckons- Warcraft [2016]

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June 16, 2016 by bck1402

warcraft_ver9Warcraft: The Beginning 
(Only the word Warcraft appeared on screen with no other subtitle)

Stars Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga and Callum Keith Rennie.

Directed by Duncan Jones

Once again, we have a movie adapted from a specific property, very likely aimed more at a built in audience that knows the property rather than the average movie-goer; not that it’s a bad thing… except I’m not in that former category this time. My knowledge of Warcraft is that there is a video game played by millions; it’s a fantasy game filled with all kinds of characters and creatures, and players can team up to take on quests or battles. That’s about it. I really don’t know anything else about the game.

So, going into this movie, my expectations were that I was going to watch a fantasy movie, there would be characters and creatures related to a fantasy world, and war would be where the action is. In a general sense, that is what I got. I can’t off-hand recall all of the characters’ (mostly unusual) names, but I recognised some of the actors and the tropes they play… like, who can’t figure out what that ending was all about and where it’s heading?

The interesting approach to the story structure is that it plays out more like a disaster movie. There is a great danger that drives every character and we follow their reactions to the situation, occasionally slipping between each character as their moment comes up. It doesn’t leave a lot of space for whole character development, and not necessarily every character will evolve over the course of the film they just react to their circumstance. In terms of a war movie, we’re flitting between the two sides and the conflicts each side presents and experiences; the two sides being, very simply, the orc horde and the alliance led by humans. The orcs are fighting for the survival of their species the only way they know how, while the human are fighting what they deem as invaders. Interestingly, both sides have their causes defined on screen, and that allows you to sympathise with specific individuals on both sides.

On the orc side, we follow the perspective of Durotan (an excellent Toby Kebbell in performance capture), an orc who has not grown weary of war but rather the purpose of the fight he is in. Tihe orc horde is led by Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), a magician who uses dark magic that extracts life from other beings to fuel its power, and it is how motives and methods that Durotan questions. With their own world dying, Gul’dan leads the horde warriors to Azeroth through a magical portal, and begins to declare war to claim the new world, taking more prisoners to fuel his Fel magic, thus repeating the same destruction that befell the orc home. It comes across as some subtle environmental message there.

On the human side, we’re following Lothar (Travis Fimmel) who serves King Llane (Dominic Cooper) as they battle the invading orcs, while trying to understand what is going on with these new unknown invaders. They, too, have a magician Guardian, Medivh (Ben Foster) on their side, along with a young mage, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who was the first to discover the presence of Fel magic connected to the orcs.

The key player is Gerona (Paula Patton), a half-breed orc who was a prisoner of Gul’dan’s, but ends up with the humans to help them. A lot of what we learn of the orcs is through her.

Most of the stars carry the film well enough. Those whose characters have a development arc do slightly better with Toby Kebbell delivering a solid and sympathetic performance via motion capture as Durotan. Dominic Cooper delivers strength and charm as the the leader of the Alliance (even if most of the other races are barely seen), while Clancy Brown (as the orc Blackhand) and Daniel Wu bring the menace. With her character being half-orc, Paula Patton is probably the only orc-ish character who isn’t a motion captured effect and thus delivers her performance under full make up, and it’s appears as if she is struggling with the performance most of the time, particularly with line delivery. Those protruding orc teeth weren’t helping any, and I wonder if they didn’t do any ADR for her.

A amazing highlight of the movie is the design and effects work. The world of Azeroth and its realms is realised with great scale, scope, beauty and magnificence. This is a fully realised world although we get mere glimpses and seldom get to tour the cites themselves, as they are not overly relevant to the story. Even then, they are sights to behold and it would make you wish you could visit such places. Then there are the armour and weaponry, created and built by the wizards at WETA (the same team behind the equipment featured in the Lord of The Rings trilogy). The King’s sword is a beautifully crafted piece of work.

The orcs are realistically rendered giving them a real heft and weight, although I couldn’t help thinking of the Maestro (an evil future Hulk in The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect story) when Gul’dan was fully revealed. The same attention to detail is put into the creature effects, particularly those large wolf-like creatures the orcs ride, or those griffin like winged creature that carry the King or Lothar. While it may be clear how every location connects due to the numerous travel methods, there is a glimpse of a map showing the lands of Azeroth (probably can be seen in more detailed once a home video edition coms out and someone will pause that frame).

Director Duncan Jones manages the large scale epic fairly well, while having the smaller, quieter moments shine more, imbuing certain characters with a sense of.. humanity? Would that be fair for an orc character like Durotan, one the audience might sympathise with? Or the internal conflict within Gerona, who is half-breed of orc and…? It’s not clear if her other half is human or not.  The balance between good and evil is not as clear cut as the division between humans and orcs as both sides strive for their own purposes. The conflict might be reflective of our own numerous wars currently going on, that even the prospect of mediation is met with skepticism. As if war itself is the only solution. Ultimately, the core of it all is about power.

But that’s just my take.

warcraft movie poster

Fantasy films of this nature tend to have a lot going on. There are lots of characters to get into; lots of locations to be familiar with; all those strange names to contend with; the nature of the world which is far removed from our own; and of course, the creatures and what not. Yet some things remain the same, particularly the values of being a king, a leader, a hero; to simply recognise what is evil and do what is right. To act with honour. Duncan Jones throws all of this into the movie and any one with even the slightest inkling of the World of Warcraft games or the property itself might be aware of what a small slice of that world this movie represents. And Jones delivers an extremely well-crafted movie with a fairly engaging tale, taking place in a visually spectacular world, back with an awesome score by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones, Clash of The Titans). Some people might nitpick over the few flaws, but the earnestness of the overall movie delivers a solid fantasy flick that is worth checking out.

At least it doesn’t take up to three hours to immerse you in the world of Warcraft.

Rating **** / 5 (Others may want to knock 1/2 or *, just for balance)

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June 2016



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