Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

warcraft-quad

“Two Worlds. One Destiny.”

Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky and Daniel Wu

The orc wizard Gul’Dan (Wu) promises to lead the Horde into a lush new world from their own dead one, by opening a portal powered by the lives of hundreds of prisoners. As the Horde descend on Azeroth, orc chief Durotan (Kebbell) begins to doubt Gul’dan, even as his magic restores Durotan’s stillborn son.  As the knights of Stormwind begin to tool up with dwarf-made handguns, the orcs advance, and the young wizard Khadgar (Schnetzer) approaches Commander Lothar (Fimmel) with a warning that dire magic may be at work.

Lothar and Khadgar travel to Stormwind to meet with King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and Queen Taria (Ruth Negga), Lothar’s sister. From here they go to fetch Medivh (Foster), the Guardian of Azeroth, who concurs that verily, some shit be going down. They scout out the enemy lines and encounter a group of orcs led by Blackhand (Clancy Brown), some – the Green Orcs – enhanced by the dark magic of the Fel, but Medivh is able to leech the Fel from them and kill them.

Lothar captured Garona (Patton), a half-orc slave with an apparent gift for languages, who agrees to aid Stormwind in exchange for her freedom. She leads a scouting mission to spy out the Horde camp, where they are building a new portal, to be powered by human prisoners. Durotan asks for parlay, but the green orcs attack the meeting and Blackhand kills Lothar’s son. Durotan is held captive and most of the Frostwolves killed, save Orgrim Doomhammer (Robert Kazinsky) and Durotan’s wife Draka (Anna Galvin), who is later tracked and slain, but not before setting her son adrift, Moses-style. Durotan dies in single combat with Gul’dan, largely to prove a point by forcing the warlock to use magic in an honour duel, but it proves too little to break Gul’dan’s power.

Medivh turns out to be a traitor. Lothar gets hella drunk (I think,) gets cuddly with Garona (who may or may not be Medivh’s daughter) and then slags off Medivh and gets thrown in the drunk tank. Khadgar visits the floating city of uselessly aloof archmages and learns that Medivh is all about the Fel, rescues Lothar and takes him to confront Medivh, while Llane is leading an assault on the portal.

In a final act of redemption, the dying Medivh allows Llane to send most of the prisoners to safety in Stormwind, but surrounded the King orders Garona to kill him, earning a place in the Horde and becoming the Alliance’s double secret insider. Lothar comes to recover the King’s body on his griffin, but is unable to escape and forced to fight Blackhand, whom he defeats. Gul’dan is unable to overturn the duel and kill him without losing the remaining respect of the Horde.

Llane’s death pushes the other human, elf and dwarf leaders to form an Alliance and orc Moses is found by a human.

What’s wrong with it?

Only love pads the film.
Only love pads the film.

Holy shit there is a lot happening in this film. I swear, no-one stays anywhere for more than five minutes. It’s like ‘get to Stormwind and tell the King!’ *riderideride* ‘Quick; to the wizard’s tower!’ *rideride* ‘I come at my King’s summons. Back to Stormwind!’ *teleport* ‘Find prisoners!’ ‘Ask the Archmages!’ ‘Parlay in a canyon!’

The whole ‘some orcs are green’ bit is really hard to deal with if you’re red-green colour blind.

The fact that Medivh was a traitor and possessed by a demon felt like something of a leap. Honestly, my thought was that he was just sickening with a bad case of the Fel.

I don’t know if Fimmel is just stuck in Ragnar Lothbrok mode, or if they wanted him to cover his Aussie accent but didn’t know what to get him to do instead, but he just sounds weird. He also doesn’t have quite the emotional range to respond affectingly to his son’s death.

I don’t understand why the Archmages are quite so useless. Or in any real terms what the Guardian is supposed to be.

A limited number of major battle scenes and the fact that everyone travels by gryphon or teleport spell means that Azeroth feels kind of small and underpopulated, right up until the funeral scene at the end.

The romance subplot between Garona and Lothar feels distinctly tacked on, perhaps to make her apparent betrayal have more impact given how little time the trust between them was given to develop.

What’s right with it?

For the most part, the film manages to work in what it needs from the games without requiring a huge amount of backstory.

In addition to Garona, Draka and Taria, there are some female knights visible, Garona and Draka have pretty substantial roles. Garona and Taria even have a conversation that might pass the Bechtel test (they start off talking about a guy – in the context of ‘I could kill you before your bodyguard reaches me – but I think they move on to the general topics of war and liberty.)

The orcs look amazing, and are truly brutal in action.

Likewise, the gryphon is amazing.

It’s hard to have a huge amount of emotional investment when the pace is so breakneck, but there are a couple of moments – especially where the film defies expectations in the build up to what is frankly a colossal downer of an ending – that make it work.

How bad is it really?

Direwolves shmirewolves.
Direwolves shmirewolves.

In the final analysis, Warcraft just tries to do too damned much in too little time. Everything feels rushed and a little confused, and that stymies the emotional investment that the actors try to infuse into the situation. There are lots of good moments and good ideas, but nothing is ever given the time to develop because someone has to teleport across a continent or hop a gryphon to cloud city.

Probably the greatest achievement of the film is the orcs. Warcraft‘s orcs defy cliche to combine aspects of brutal savagery and noble barbarism, more Conan than Uruk-hai, their bondage under Gul’dan’s rule and desperation in the face of their dying world effectively portrayed.

Best bit (if such there is)?

In the first major fight scene, as the orcs clobber knights left, right and centre, Khadgar throws up a shield which Blackhand bounces off. Blackhand’s look of total ‘what the fuck?’ astonishment is one of the better reactions to unexpected magic I’ve seen.

What’s up with…?

  • Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga? Are they a package deal at the moment? They’re playing exes in Preacher and a couple in this. Oh, and they’re dating.
  • The Guardian?
  • The Fel?
  • Those blue dudes with horns?

Ratings

"Quick! We've been here for three minutes. Someone call a gryphon."
“Quick! We’ve been here for three minutes. Someone call a gryphon.”

Production values – For $160 million you’d better hope the film looks gorgeous, and sure enough it does. On the downside, the colour palette is bewildering for anyone with the wrong kind of colour blindness. 4
Dialogue and performances – The actors do a pretty good job, but about 70% of their lines are exposition of one sort or another, and Kebble’s accent is just plain weird. 11
Plot and execution – The film certainly has pace; too much of it, leaving very little time for the audience to stop and catch their breath. Given what they tried to include, a Game of Thrones-style 10-episode serial would have worked better than cramming everything into two hours. Based on observed day and night cycles, I’m pretty sure the whole thing – including raids, battles and diplomacy – must have taken less than a week. 16
Randomness – Who are the blue guys? Is Stormwind a city or a kingdom or both? Why is Lothar meeting the king in a pub? Who are the blue peeps? What’s a Guardian? 14
Waste of potential – This will never go down in the annals as the worst video game movie ever, but may well go down as the worst of this year; a year which brought us a movie based on Angry Birds (which I will review once I get to see it, but I hear surprisingly good things.) 12

Overall 57%

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