Warcraft | reviews, news & interviews
Titanic struggle between orcs and humans teeters on the brink of farce
The Warcraft series of "massively multiplayer online role-playing games" (or MMORPG if you must) has apparently amassed over 100 million users since it all began with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994. Ergo, turning it into a 3D multiplex-buster is a no-brainer. Surely?
I could foresee a couple of potential pitfalls. Firstly, passively watching a movie is quite a different proposition from playing an interactive game. Secondly, it's not as if we've been deprived of this kind of sword-and sorcery, dungeons-and-dragons, mystical kingdom stuff lately, with Game of Thrones, the Hobbit / Lord of the Rings canon, Sinbad, Jack the Giant Slayer and on and on. You could throw in Star Wars and X-Men for good measure.
So can Warcraft stand out from the crowd? With Duncan Jones – creator of the smart and characterful Moon and Source Code – aboard as director and co-writer (with Charles Leavitt) you would expect to find a few fresh twists, but working within this kind of formula there's not a lot you can do beyond amping up the technology. Certainly the 3D motion capture state-of-the art continues to gallop ahead at breakneck speed, and the battle scenes featuring assorted exotic beasts and the fearsome orcs who make up The Horde are handled with the awesome smoothness that only multi-mega-gigahertz of computing power can provide. My favourite sequences in the whole flick were the soaring in-flight episodes starring the splendid gryphon used by King Llane (Dominic Cooper, pictured above) as his personal transport. The way its feathers ruffled in the wind as it soared over mountains and valleys was wondrous to behold.
The plot of Warcraft follows that of the original Orcs & Humans. Nutshell-wise, the tyrannical shaman Gul'dan, leader of the orcs, must find a new home for his people because Draenor – which sounds like a fabric conditioner, but is their home-world – is dying (eco-message alert!). Using the evil magic called The Fel, he has found a way to open a portal to the verdant and luxuriant Azeroth, where benevolent King Llane rules over his human subjects along with various elves and so forth. Llane, assisted by a Merlin-like fellow known as The Guardian (an unhealthy-looking Ben Foster) and his top warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel, who might as well have just stuck to his real name), has to stop the advance guard of orcs from building new portals which will to enable the main orc swarm to overwhelm Azeroth (below, orcs with pet).
It's a serviceable enough framework which leaves space for splashing on some big emotional characteristics like love, loyalty, courage, betrayal and self-sacrifice as the epic struggle plays itself out, but you may need the pumps going full blast to suspend enormous quantities of disbelief. Jones didn't make it easy on non-aficionados of the Warcraft universe by pitching us straight into the world of the orcs, which are, with the best will in the world, a repulsive-looking bunch of freaks. As if being eight feet tall and lens-shatteringly unphotogenic wasn't bad enough, they're all afflicted with hideous, craggy fangs poking out from their lower jaw, which must make certain forms of social interaction (let alone eating) all but impossible. This reaches a pinnacle of absurdity in the case of Garona (Paula Patton), a svelte and glamorous half-orc who looks like a supermodel, except for the ludicrous little white fangs poking out of her lower lip.
There are some fun bits along the way. Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), a sorcerer's apprentice to Medhiv (that's The Guardian's real name), brings comic bumbliness to his efforts at mastering the secrets of wizardry, while Fimmel does the rugged battle-born thing with panache. Dalaran, an exotic citadel floating miles up in the clouds, is a thing of digitised wonder. At the end of the day though, it's what it is – a big-budget commercial franchise spun off from a computer game. After two hours it doesn't really end, it just sets up the next instalment.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?