Generic, but not entirely without charm. Duncan Jones’ venture into mainstream blockbuster-dom isn’t the disaster it could have been.
If you’ve seen the trailer, or any Hollywood swords & sorcery film ever, you pretty much know what to expect without needing any reference to the popular PC game on which it is based. Heroes, wizards, dark forces, and magical kingdoms; this is all you need to know. In that respect, Warcraft: The Beginning does exactly what is says on the tin. The question is, can the director of thoughtful low-key sci-fi such as Moon and Source Code bring anything more to the table?
The basic set up is the Orc world is in environmental danger (climate-change warnings fell on deaf ears there too), and a magical, curruptive force know as 'the Fel', controlled by warlike Orc sorcerer Gul’Dan, allows them access to much prettier real estate in Azeroth: a vast kingdom where humans rule alongside familiar races such as Dwarves and Elves, overseen by magical protectors know as Guardians. The problem is, this magical portal is powered by life itself, requiring the sacrifice of innocents. Conscionable Orc warrior Durotan, having recently become a dad, isn’t comfortable with this genocidal refugee policy, and discord begins to spread among the orc ranks...
There are some rather good motion capture performances that bring the hulking Orcs to life, and while their plight brings to mind the same ’co-existing with humans’ themes as Avatar or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; sentimentality and ‘liberal guilt’ are refreshingly kept to a minimum in favour of simple action storytelling. There are times however when the narrative drags between battles (which are surprisingly few) and without much in the way of character substance this can lead to periods of boredom. Duncan Jones doesn't quite nail the action either, with key battles annoyingly intercut (George Lucas style) at the wrong times. Some of the character actions later in the film are also downright bizarre, and in it's commitment to being faithful to the game and appealing to mass audiences, it sacrifices any pretence towards deeper, character-driven storytelling that one would find in Lord of the Rings or even The Hobbit trilogy.
An effects-heavy approach has the effect of making the whole enterprise look like a feature-length cutscene from the game itself, so it’s fortunate then that the CGI is almost uniformly excellent (better than that in X-Men Apocalypse) especially in the motion capture work. Toby Kebbel does a fine job in a surprisingly three-dimensional role as Orc chieftan Durotan, and his interactions with other characters especially Orc-wifey Draka, are surprisingly touching and real. In the human camp, Vikings star Travis Fimmel is serviceable enough as laid back commander Lothar (Aragorn-lite); while the reliable Ben Foster does a good enough job as powerful wizard Medivh; while Paula Patton is earnest as the green-skinned half-Orc warrior Garona (think Gamora, with dental issues), one of the very few female characters.
Character deaths, not all of them expected, spice things up (Game of Thrones would be proud) and there’s a decent amount of playful humour to prevent it collapsing under its own weight. In short, it’s not a bad effort. One does wonder though how much of Duncan Jones’ creativity made it to the screen, in a production that was no doubt heavily micromanaged by the studio, and some may feel that his talents are better served elsewhere. So while I wont be queuing up for the next entry in the series, I wont be avoiding it either. It’s worth a watch.