IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 122 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Draenor, the homeworld of the orcs, is dying. Guldan unites the clans into an army called the Horde, promising to lead them to a new, lush world – Azeroth – though the magic Gulfan uses, the Fel, requires the draining of life to sustain the portal which he’s opened. Guldan leads a small warband to capture prisoners en masse on the other side and sacrifice them to bring the whole Horde through. Sir Anduin Lothar, the military commander of the kingdom of Stormwind, receives reports of raids on human villages and meets a young mage named Khadgar, who noticed that the victims were killed using the Fel. Khadgar persuades Lothar and Llane Wrynn, King of Stormwind, to consult his reclusive master Medivh, the fabled Guardian, about what to do….
I had a feeling that I would love Warcraft: The Beginning, and would come on here to rave about it, but in truth I found it to be just another mediocre effort like it seems an increasing number of big films are this year; reasonably enjoyable and certainly not boring but entirely unremarkable. Critical response seems to be mixed but leaning towards the negative, fans of the Warcraft games and books generally seem to like it, while the majority of the paying public appear to be staying away. I know hardly anything of the games and books, so this film just seems to me to be a fairly generic Tolkien-style fantasy that throws miost of the tried and tested ingredients that you expect to see at you at top speed but still comes off as a bit uninspired. As I type, I’ve already begun to forget some of what actually happened in the movie, and who was who, and it’s becoming a bit of a blur. It seems that director Duncan Jones, whose new film really is a major disappointment, possibly made it chiefly for Warcraft fans, and if you’re like me than you can’t help but have just a bit of fondness for a movie which doesn’t seem to have been made for the millions of folk who are wetting themselves with excitement at each new offering from Marvel, but this one doesn’t even have the flashes of inspiration or bits of sheer insanity that made, for example, Jupiter Ascending entertaining, if not neccessarily very good.
It does open well, with us being thrown into a western-style duel between a human and an orc before we’re catapulted back in time, but we’re then introduced to character after character, and setting after setting, at bewildering speed in the early scenes with no real attempt at scene setting. You certainly can’t say that the screenplay by Jones and Charles Leavitt wastes any time, but a bit more time to digest everything would have been nice. It’s recently been confirmed that much footage was cut out, and I bet that most of it was from the first third. Within minutes some orcs are invading Azeroth, and it’s interesting that the story begins from the point of view of those who seem to be the bad guys, creatures whose world may be dying but who have no bones about killing lots of prisoners, including children, to get to their destination and attacking human settlements right away. However, the idea, which I thought could have made the story quite intriguing and resulted in a rather morally challeging film where you’re not sure whose side you want to be on, of having the tale supposedly told from the point of view of both the defending humans and the attacking orcs isn’t really exploited as the orcs are soon divided into bad orc and good orc, and much more time is spent with the humans anyway. It was Jones who was supposedly responsible for doing this but he seems to have done it in a rather half-hearted way, as if he didn’t want the audience to think too much, or was restrained too much by the studio from doing what he really wanted to with the material. Then again, it’s virtually impossible to see the touch of the director of Moon and Source Code here, and after a while one wonders what he really saw in the premise in the first place.
So the orcs are soon threatening Azeroth – a stunning shot has the camera swoop over the land to show village after village being attacked and sometimes destroyed – and the King has to unite the many human kingdoms to stop this invasion. The chief hero of the piece is the Queen’s brother, the somewhat Aragorn-like [though Travis Fimmel doesn’t have much of Viggo Mortensen’s charisma] Anduin Lothar, though he’s soon joined in his heroic questing and fighting by Khadgar, an apprentice wizard, while there’s also Medich, a powerful magician who’s the guardian of Azeroth. On the other side there’s the nasty Guldan and Blackhand, plus Durotan, husband to Draka and father to a newborn son [a ridiculous scene has mother giving birth to son while she’s travelling through the portal, while we later get an out of place and silly version of Moses in the Bullrushes]. It’s Durotan who realises that the dark power Guldan has been harnessing will affect their new homeland with the same life draining devastation as Draenor, and who decides that he must try and reason with the humans if his family and own kind are ever to be able to make a new start on Azeroth. Thrust into the middle of the battle is Garona, a human/orc halfbreed, who makes her own allegiance with the humans to help stop the Orcs in return for acceptance into Azeroth. And it seems that somebody on the human side helped let the orcs in in the first place. The revelation of who it is is handled in a rather lame manner.
It’s really quite a simple story truth be told, despite the occasional rather surprising turn of events, but some of the folk on both sides aren’t characterised too well and don’t make enough of an impression. One feels that there are back stories which are missing, and if there’s a sequel [which I doubt] we will probably get some of these back stories, but just compare Warcraft: The Beginning with The Lord Of The Rings which in its first instalment immediately gave us characters with strong personalities who were instantly memorable even if you hadn’t read a word of Tolkien. Warcraft: The Beginning really falls short here [though it falls short in most other respect too]. The semi-romance involving two characters may as well not really be in the film and neither convinces nor touches, while some tragic turns of events in the story just don’t have the impact that they should. One thing that I did think worked was the tone. There’s been some criticism that the film is overly serious, but the gritty tone comes off quite well and feels surprisingly appropriate, while there are still touches of levity here and there, like when Garona reveals how making love with a human would severely damage him, even these bits are often odd rather than actually funny.
There’s a good chase on horseback early on despite being shot with far too many close-ups, but the action, lots of which takes place amidst dull displays of wizardry with light streaming out all over the place, is generally not very memorable. The final battle is a big disappointment [it’s like they didn’t even try], with no moments you will probably remember, and a final showdown over before it’s even begun. Obviously the aim was to go for a more realistic approach to warfare and not make things seem too choreographed or feel the action with the kind of goofy touches that Peter Jackson feels obliged to provide, which is commendable, but then you also get some of those ridiculous scenes where people stop right in the middle of a battle and everyone else carries on fighting around them without interrupting the interactions of the main characters whatsoever. There’s some great attention to detail in their design but some of the motion capture orcs don’t really convince, especially when they move, and it just feels like we’re watching a cartoon for much of the time [this is no Jungle Book, for example] while the performers don’t really shine through the motion capture very much. Most of the other CGI is fine, which is just as well being that this is one of those films where you find yourself concentrating on the effects quite a bit because there’s just not much attempt at emotional involvement despite some serious tragedy. It all feels a bit cold and distant.
None of the acting is bad but there isn’t really a single memorable performance, while the score by Ramin Djawadi is as bland as you may expect. Warcraft: The Beginning could have been a whole lot worse – for a start, Uwe Boll was once interested in making it – but for a film that its director has spent so much time pre-planning and then making, it’s still basically a failure, if not as monumental a one as some of its detractors claim. And it ends in a most unsatisfying manner. There’s nothing inherently wrong with setting things up for potential sequels, but there should still be a sense of resolution. This one just seems to suddenly stop and then try to half-wrap things up while still getting you excited for number two.