Acclaimed sci-fi director Duncan Jones and the hugely popular fantasy MMPORG Warcraft; a match made in heaven, right? Erm, not quite...
Yeah, so that's where we're starting from. Certain sections of the fanbase will already be proclaiming how this lack of foreknowledge automatically disqualifies me from passing judgement on Warcraft, but I call bullshit on that. The film and the game are two separate entities; I hadn't read Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings prior to watching those (I have now!), but I still love the shit out of both. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece; HBO's Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon.
But Warcraft? Warcraft is a bit more complicated to untangle. To the uninitiated, the film is incomprehensible and convoluted. It's an uneven attempt to condense a sprawling fantasy experience into a short two-hour runtime, plunging into the depths of its lore and barely pausing to surface and provide explanation for us mere mortals.
The plot concerns itself with two warring factions; the Alliance and the Horde, the latter of which have been forced from their homeland after it was poisoned by an evil warlock orc, Gul'dam (Daniel Wu). After travelling through a green portal onto the astral plain of Azeroth, the Horde come to blows with the shining Alliance knights - but the two sides soon face the prospect of putting aside their differences to fight against a common enemy.
Visually, the film is stunning to behold. Towering cities, daunting fortresses and sprawling snowy mountaintops breathe life into the geography of Azeroth. Similarly, the motion capture employed by actors like Toby Kebbell (who plays Frostwolf Chieftain Durotan) is astounding. It melds flesh and fantasy further than ever before; it's often hard to wrap your head around how well realised the orcs are in this film. Kebbell and Robert Kazinsky both gives fantastic performances also (the latter plays a character called Orgrim).
Paula Patton plays a character called Garona, a half-breed orc and human. How she fits into the world at the start isn't made very clear, and how she will continue to fit in afterwards is even harder to pin down. Patton's performance is strained and her romantic relationship with Lothar is a distraction.
Ben Foster plays a powerful mage called Medivh, but his performance doesn't hold a candle to someone like Ian McKellan's Gandalf. Jones makes sacrifices to condense this film and I felt like Medivh is a character who isn't fleshed out very well as a result. Plus, the internal logic of blue magic equalling 'good' and green magic equalling 'bad' made this element of the film very uninteresting and simplistic.
At the end of the day, you can't fault Warcraft for its lofty ambitions. It takes a property weighed down with thick backstory and valiantly struggles to make it fit, producing a messy and disjointed film along the way. There are moments that shine, but those are spread thin. The world, its characters and the factions are all drawn very broadly - and we don't feel the same sense of awe and magic as we did when we first saw something like The Fellowship of the Ring. Maybe a sequel will be stronger - this franchise has promise - but a clearer focus and more depth of character wouldn't be an unwelcome addition.
The Verdict: 4/10
If you've sunk weeks and months into the Warcraft franchise, Jones' passion and visual flair will enthral and excite. Credit where credit is due, Jones gave it a good crack and the issues with this film don't stem from him or his vision for the series. However, if you don't already know the difference between Stormwind, Skyforge or Sunspear, this is an overblown CGI LARP that will knock you over the head and leave you dazed.
Warcraft is in cinemas across Australia now