In cinema there are many unshakable rules and laws, everyone respects Citizen Kane, we all agree on how cool Samuel L. Jackson is, you never dispute Alfred Hitchcock as the master of suspense and you do not expect much from any video game movie. Over the years many video game phenomenons have pressed X to jump to the silver screen but pretty much all of them have been cases of ‘Game Over’. So much so that, among cinemagoers, the video game movie curse is well known. Well, after years of forging a cast and crew, finally Blizzard Entertainment’s computer game sensation Warcraft is marching into battle on the big screen. So, with a fantastic director behind it, can Warcraft: The Beginning break the curse? Critics have suggested no but we suggest it has done just that.
The story goes that the orc homeworld is on the brink of dying but in the face of this, wielder of the sinister death powered Fel magic; Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) has opened a portal leading to the peaceful world of Azeroth. As this horde of orcs aims to conquer this world, it falls on the king’s loyal knight Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmell) and his forces to lead the battle to save their world. However not all the orcs are convinced that this action is the best for their race, as Durotan (Toby Kebbell)- chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan- fears for his family and his race as war looms between man and orc, with mixed breed survivor Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton) also forced to question whose side she is on.
The main issue with Warcraft is also one that many will be most happy with, in that it is very unforgiving on newbies in terms of the jargon-filled dialogue. Much is often the case with a lot of fantasy works but the kingdoms, clans, councils and magic terms are slung about as often as ‘boomsticks’ are fired here. The plot, much to its credit, at its root is relatively simple and thus the head scratching (to average viewers) moments of Easter Eggs and links to the games do not overrun the main narrative and there is still much to enjoy here for the uninitiated. Commonly with video game adaptations, the films miss the point of the source material or fail to strike the right tone, which is certainly no issue here. For the first time in memory, a video game film genuinely looks like the game it is adapting and even for the newcomers- as is this writer- the stark, grand and impressive video game feel is unshakable.
True the film does often have some simplistic moments- akin to cut scenes or an end boss- but Duncan Jones has not let his desire for doing Blizzard’s gaming zeitgeist justice, extinguish his own creative fires. Loyal it may be but Warcraft, from the pulse-racing opening to the genuinely welcome surprises in the climatic battles, still manages to boast a heart beneath its muscle and armour. The visuals are stunning (with Simon Duggan’s cinematography and the digital backdrops/sets being a triumph) and the story, even in its wordy and nerdy moments, is fast paced and packed with action but it is the poignant plot points and deviations from certain clichés in Jones and Charles Leavitt’s world building screenplay that genuinely surprise you. Most, quite reasonably, expected an epic here but perhaps one lacking character or soul in place of scale but Warcraft is genuinely a lot better than it has any right to be, considering how others of its ilk have struggled.
Jones directs with a clear aim to please the fans, critics have clonked his film over the head with a hammer but we found lots to love in this visually arresting fantasy. Vibes of John Carter and ideas that are well worn in this genre of filmmaking crop up but any overblown elements (a magical clash between sorcerers later on), many more enjoyable ones fill this well put together fable. Perhaps destined to encourage a following, if not break box office records (we shall see), this film truly offers a beginning to this hopeful series but also manages to stand on its own as a fully formed film- with a start, middle and end- while leaving room for more. It could do with a director’s cut version perhaps to flesh out certain elements, scenes and characters but what is here offers some big, impressive goings on, that bring the characters to life.
Deep and complex characters were never really an expectation but the script does actually allow for healthy doses of humour and gravitas, making the majority of the characters here very likable and effective. Protagonist orc Durotan is a brilliant creation; with the motion capture letting Toby Kebbell emote and allowing the big, brutish orc to have a heart (the moments with his wife Draka (Anna Galvin) and son Go’el are brilliant). Meanwhile Travis Fimmell is magnificent as the film’s Aragon-like hero Anduin Lothar and he strikes a good chemistry with Paula Patton’s new character, Garona Halforcen, a rare instance of a strong female lead in a classically structured fantasy. Plus her mixed racial background allows for an area of intrigue, regarding her place in the narrative. Meanwhile villainous duties are well handled by the nasty and devious Gul’dan- played by Daniel Wu and very well at that. Dominic Cooper as King Llane Wrynn also offers great support, as does Ben Schnetzer as young sorcerer Khadgar, who proves a vital aspect to the film alongside Ben Foster’s mysterious Guardian Medivh.
The film surprises in many ways but comes down to big warriors atop fantastical beasts, lobbing big arse weapons at each other’s toothy, green-skinned and dreadlock-headed mugs…so what’s not to like. Duncan Jones’ clear passion project (certainly tested by personal tragedies during the course of the film’s making) succeeds where so many others have failed and when Ramin Djawadi’s great score kicks in; you can feel the goosebumpy affection for the material coming through the screen. Warcraft: The Beginning is an axe swinging, tusk snapping, sword clanging, good old fashioned fantasy that wastes no time getting going and, despite the fact it would benefit from some wrinkles being ironed out, it stands as the best transition from video game to film yet. We loved it, many others will too and fans will feel right at home, critics be damned.
WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: DUNCAN JONES / SCREENPLAY: CHARLES LEAVITT, DUNCAN JONES / STARRING: TRAVIS FIMMELL, BEN FOSTER, PAULA PATTON, DOMINIC COOPER, TOBY KEBBELL, DANIEL WU / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 5/10