Warcraft (Movie Review)

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Here in Denmark, Warcraft had its premier today so obviously I flocked to the cinema to watch the movie. And the movie turned out to be exactly what I expected. The film looked and sounded wonderful (I’m already thinking Oscar nominations for visual effects, sound editing, and sound mixing), but the story was weak and the characters vanilla. The CGI, which I had feared, turned out to be pretty gosh darned good (especially in relation to the orcs). The acting department of the film was not anything unexpected with a few decent permormances and otherwise plain and wooden acting that seemed to gloss over the otherwise dramatic and interesting situations that some of these characters were thrown into. The largest issue with this film however is the weak story, the unbelievable screenplay, and the fact that the movie relies on the audience having previous knowledge of the Warcraft lore (which I don’t).

Travis Fimmel, who I’ve only ever seen in Vikings, plays the human protagonist, Anduin Lothar, and does so decently. Now this is obviously not a groundbreaking or jawdropping performance, but for a big action movie like Warcraft his acting was fairly good. Fimmel makes the character interesting, relatable, and easy-to-root-for, which is frankly more than anyone could have expected, so props to him. But Fimmel was by no means excellent; on several occasions when he had to deal with loss there seemed to be a weird and inhuman lack of emotion.  Paula Patton plays the half-human and half-orc female protagonist, Garona Halforcen, who flip-flops from Horde to Alliance and vice versa. This character, just like Lothar, has a nice relatability and is easy for the viewer to get behind. Patton’s performance is also pretty decent, but just like Fimmel, she had moments of uncomfortable stiffness and lack of emotion. I do think though, that in this case that could also be due to a screenplay that totally lacked any sense of believable dialogue. Ben Schnetzer also has a major role in this film as the mage, Khadgar, who accompanies Lothar for the majority of his journey. Although the character is cliche (I’ll be saying that a lot), Schnetzer’s decent wit and mildly sarcastic approach makes the character fairly compelling and interesting. The character’s major moments however are ruined by unpleasing directing and weird dialogue, but Schnetzer did alright.

Ben Foster also features in this film as the Guardian of Tirisfal, Medivh. Now I can honestly proclaim that I was lost for a large portion of his scenes which were something about mages and magic and ‘fel’, I think… But all that aside, Foster did not help much himself. Foster’s portrayal was awkward and inconsistent, sometimes he’d loudly speak to himself and sometimes he’d have a large unjustified outburst of emotion with no true reason behind it, but for the sake of the story. Dominic Cooper portrays the young and dashing King Llane Wrynn, who rules Azeroth. Cooper’s character is awefully cliched, but is wonderfully grounded and believable and seems to mend some of Foster’s scenes. But ultimately the character fails to get the audience to back him and it seems truly outrageous that the same actor who made Howard Stark a likeable character played such a dull character in such a big movie. Toby Kebell plays the noble yet awefully underused character of Durotan, the leader of the Frostwolf Clan (a clan of orcs). In the very beginning of the film, the character is seen with his very young son, and this helps make the character appeal to the audience. Although the character itself is interesting, and Kebell’s acting is decent, the character is so underused and pushed aside for storylines and plots that fall incredibly short of Durotan’s.

Robert Kazinsky and Clancy Brown (Mr. Krabbs in Spongebob) play Orgrim Doomhammer, the reluctant follower and occasionally good friend of Durotan, and Blackhand, the aggresive warchief of the Horde, respectively. They both do decently in their roles and Kazinsky especially has nice chemistry with Kebell on screen. Daniel Wu is also thrown into the film as the classic evil manipulative magician-type character. Though the character itself is cliche and has no true backstory or anything (at least not in the film), Wu does play the role well and if it were not for IMDb, I would never have guessed that Wu had played that character. Ruth Negga and Anna Galvin also eature in the film as Lady Taria, Wrynn’s wife, Lothar’s brother, and queen of Azeroth, and Draka, Durotan’s wife respectively. The two are really just shoehorned into the movie to make Wrynn and Durotan more relatable (I guess) and serve no purpose but to be wives, and although Draka especially gets a few moments to shine, she is– despite significant screen time– absolutely forgettable. Negga’s acting in the film is depressingly and cringe-inducingly wooden, while Galvin’s was a little more believable, but was still to a certain degree weak due to the lack of emotion she put into the character. And finally– because I’m tired of writing about these dull character– Callum Keith Rennie plays Moroes, Medivh’s assistant (maybe). The character is never really explained and although having a significant handful of scenes with Medivh I have no clue why he was in the film or what his realtionship was with Medivh. But despite all that I can still point out the fact that Rennie’s acting (like countless other’s) was uncomfortably wooden and he seemed to put no effort whatsoever into making the dialogue believable.

Let’s get to something positive now! The movie looked and sounded amazing! After watching a handful of trailers before going to the cinema, I was nervous that the CGI-heavy scenes (all of them) would be horrible, but for the most part they weren’t. There were a few instances, especially in the less action packed scenes, where you think “That wall is definitely CGI”, but for the big action sequences, that was rarely the case. I should also point out that the orcs looked absolutely wonderful (especially in the close-ups), but my only issue with it was that it was occasionally hard to tell specific orcs apart (especially the difference between Orgrim and Blackhand. And although I know a big part of it derives from the Blizzard games themselves, I think that the character designs and landscapes were also creative, visually pleasing, and helped carry the story (or lack thereof). The costumes were also extravagant, but managed not to steal the spotlight while still adding to the movie. There are also a few transitional shots between scenes that I personally think are absolutely wonderful. The action sequences in the movie were also cool, not necessarily thrilling, but cool, and the action scenes were rather good at capturing the style of the video games (I’ve never played them so what should I know?). So props to the cinematographer, Simon Duggan; film editor, Paul Hirsch; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; set decorator, Elizabeth Wilcox; costume designer, Mayes C. Rubeo; and  sound, special effects, and visual departments. The soundtrack for the movie, by Ramin  Djawadi, is also incredible. In the trailers the soundtrack comes off as too Mad Max: Fury Road to me with the weird metal and dubstep sort of genre, but in the actual movie the soundtrack leans toward the more fantasy epic genre that helped bring the visuals to life.

Now let’s dive into some more not-so-fun aspects of the film: the screenplay, story, and direction. Three of the film’s weakest links. Let’s start with the screenplay. The screenplay, by Duncan Jones and Charles Leavitt (and Chris Metzen on sory and characters) was really bad. Is that enough? No? Okay! The screenplay made every single character speak as if they were straight out of King Lear, but not in that beautiful and meticulous way that Shakespeare would have done it, but rather in a clunky, awkward, and uncomfortable way that seems to limit the actors’ options as well. The screenplay also provides no exposition and the viewer is required to have previous knowledge about the Warcraft lore and storylines and concepts and what-not, and as fun as that may be to Warcraft fans, it’s not very pleasant for general cinema audiences. The screenplay also seems to shy away from true emotion or character development as every character is static and monotonous throughout the whole film. There are several instances where the film’s protagonist should essentially have had a moment to really let the emotions reign, which could also have led to a more compelling plot, but where the screenwriters just decided to skip to a different subplot. The story itself is also pretty much non existent as the whole story is dialogue-dialogue-dialogue-boom-bang-clash-dialogue-dialogue-dialogue, etc. and where the story seems to serve the action rather than vice versa. The story is also horribly predictable with the outcome being EXACTLY what the viewer could predict after watching the first half hour. And the direction… Ugh! The direction, by Duncan Jones, led to some of the weakest and most uncomfortably unnatural movement, staging, and dialogue-deliverance I’ve seen in a long time (and I watched Sharknado a few days back). One of the final battle scenes (I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ll say it involves Lothar and Khadgar) is especially awkward with the two characters just taking a break halfway through the scene to chat for a minute or two in the most uncomfortably nonchalant manner. And that is just one of many uncomfortable scenes directed by Jones for this film.

So in conclusion: this is a cool fantasy epic visually (and sound-wise), but there is no story or characters or emotion or plot or heart or sense or anything else really to make this film compelling. And although I’m sure that Duncan Jones made this project from a place of love for the franchise, he simply forgot that not everyone going to watch this film knows the lore. And although the acting was in general decent (ah… somewhat decent) the vast majority of characters were not interesting or the ones that were mildly interesting (Durotan) were glossed over and ignored. But that is not to say you shouldn’t go watch this movie. If you are a fan of epic fantasy or of the Warcraft genre or if you just appreciate beautiful visuals and thrilling soundtracks I advise you go check this movie out for yourself, because it is not all bad and the film was probably not generally targeted to me.

Best Aspect- The visuals and sound

Worst Aspect- Duncan Jones’ direction

Rating- 3.9/10

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