Friday, June 10, 2016

Warcraft - Movie Review

Half-orc warrior woman for the WIN!
Based on the best-selling game which I’ve never played (though I loved Starcraft), this is a waste of excellent CGI, stellar actors, and a built-in, worldwide audience.  With “franchise” and “Next [i]Lord of the Rings[/i]” in their eyes, the talented Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones (whom I can’t praise enough for Moon) sacrifice plot and pacing for a bloat of characters and backstory.  I’d hoped all this foundation-laying might pay off in the big conflict of the third act.

I was wrong.

We end up with less “awesome epic of awesomeness” and more Dungeons & Dragons or Eregon.

First, the plot.  It’s very straight-forward and that’s a good thing.  The Orc homeworld is dying.  The Orcs (I guess the whole planet of them) have been united and brought together by a Gul’Dan who uses “green magic” which the voice over narration from Durotan tells us is somehow bad.  Gul’Dan opens a portal to the fantasy world Middle Zeeland Azeroth.  The portal, powered by the deaths of hundreds of captives, is limited to how many Orcs can pass through, so only the elite pass through.  The goal is to open the portal again, bring all the Orcs through, and save their race.  I assume this dooms all the other races, of which there is at least one, but they’re weak, so what do we care?  The Orc way (traditions, we’re repeatedly told, must be honored) is to take by force, so the Horde starts doing that.  This, of course, is quite annoying to humans who enjoy their not-dying lifestyle, and conflict ensues.

The plot is more layered than that, which is a good thing.  It mostly avoids the "Always Chaotic Evil" trope with the Orc chieftain Durotan questioning Gul’Dan’s methods, and the Orcs in general out to save their race and way of life.  Durotan is especially concerned about the icky green magic, the fell or the fel or the f’el—this being a fantasy film I’m sure there’s a clever and unique spelling which I was too lazy to find.  Seems like anything with the Middle English root word for “destructive” should probably be avoided, but I’m guessing the Orcs missed their Chaucer studies.  I’m also sure there is plenty of fan service that I’m wholly unaware of it.  Jones and Leavitt seemed to have walked the fine line between new and experienced audience members such that I never felt left out.

Let’s be clear: I totally wanted to at least like this film.  It’s right in the sweet, sweet awesome center of my Venn diagram for fantasy, awesome and movies.  Alas, there is just too much that distracts from the awesome.

The biggest problem (of many big problems) is the pacing.  This is due to the lack focus.  There were are no less than a dozen major characters.  Any one of which could have served as a main character, but giving them all screen time made certain that none of them do.  It’s like the end of varsity basketball game that is so in the bag, the coach clears the bench to let everyone have some court time.  Jones provides us with a unique view for a fantasy film where, as Wreck-It Ralph taught us, “Just because you’re a ‘bad guy’ that doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy.”  But he goes to such great lengths to make this point that what should be a 90-minute epic first installment is stretched out into 123-minutes of blah that may not see a second movie.

When all else fails, call in a Viking in armor!
There are also so many little problems that I kept throwing up my hands in frustration.  If you have an experienced, professional military based on a feudal system, they should know how to fight together.  That is, literally, where they get their strength.  I don’t mind the manner in which the Orcs fighting-style (or lack of it) was portrayed, because they’re essentially Carthaginian war elephants—big, mean, and singularly stronger by an order of magnitude.  Their style is perfect.  But since Azaroth has nothing like them, the fighting style of trained military shouldn’t devolve immediately into single-combat melee.  The one iffy “shield formation” (*head-smack*) shows that the film could have reflected the strength of the Orcs versus the humans’ unity without giving up anything.

Also, if you have air superiority through use of gryphons, why doesn’t your fully-committed battle strategy include using gryphons?

The other problem are the various fantasy-terms being tossed around without any explanation for the audience’s benefit.  I dislike when movies take me by the hand and tell me I don’t need to think.  On the other hand, I still don’t quite understand who the “Kirin Tor” are, what vows Khadgar renounced or recanted, and what their relationship is to the rest of the world.  They use cool-looking “blue magic” which seems to suggest they’re a flavor of “good guy” but this is an inherent problem with most fantasy books and movies.

It's just a story about an Orc and his warg.
There are certainly moments in it that I did enjoy.  Travis Fimmel IS A GOD.  The Orcs, who are wholly CGI, are amazing.  Durotan and his wife Draka are especially groovy.  And Paula Patton’s half-orc Garona, well, I could stand to see her do some more awesomeness.  She kicks ass, takes names and never, ever stops chewing scenery.  Every scene with her is layered and nuanced, which is really saying something for a fantasy film.  She should have been the primary focus, and the story would have been better served for it.

Finally, while there is a lack of inconsistency in the use of gryphons and wargs, the giant half-eagle half-lions and the giant giant wolves were freaking awesome.  They were so well-rendered and interacted with by the live-action characters that I never missed a CGI-beat. 

The long and short of this, is that if you love Warcraft you probably will at least like this film.  But for more general audiences, it’s a swing and a miss.  That something you never want to do with an Orc.

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