Since the beginning, it has seemed to be written in cinematic stone that all video game to movie adaptations must – indeed – be terrible. From the “classic” that is Super Mario Brothers, to the weirdly successful Resident Evil franchise, the gaming world has not blended well with that of film. Maybe it is the stories themselves, or the lack of knowledge from the storytellers/filmmakers, but something just has never clicked. But it is 2016 now, and the world is hoping very much that such a trend dies, and the evolution of the genre flourishes with the release of Universal/Legendary’s Warcraft, the adaptation of the popular game series by Blizzard, directed by Duncan Jones and staring Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, and many others.
Warcraft opens with a vague introduction to the orcs – who unlike the heartless creatures of a similar name of Lord of the Rings, seem to have some soul inside their motion capture bodies. We meet these giants of CGi in the dying Daenor, a world they are attempting to escape. Their plan going forward? To conquer the world of Azeroth – orcs versus humans. But is the battle as easily two sided as it seems, or are there multiple cracks within each team, with a greater villain within? As is the case with most movies of this nature, the answer leans in that “yes” direction, but takes a while to get there.
Though Duncan Jones in the past has been known to work magic with films that explain overly complicated stories – in a manner that is much more accessible to its audience, WarCraft sadly doesn’t showcase that same sort of storytelling magic. Though there are wizards and enchanting beings aplenty, the biggest flaw of this first Blizzard produced film is that unless you are an avid fan of the franchise, you’re likely to tattoo a question mark on your head by the end of the film.
Sure, the general story of good versus evil is easy to digest, but the interworking elements of the film’s worlds are one of the toughest cinematic exams to study for. There’s a thing to be said that you should make a movie that excites your target audience, but when that ultimately alienates the people that have no interest or knowledge of the game franchise, you might as well have signed a deal to be a failure in some respect.
But thankfully, not all is lost when it comes to Warcraft in comparison to its prior video game movie lineage, and that is mainly due to a mixture of who is behind and in front of the camera.
Though he is obviously not at his A-Game, Jones definitely loves the franchise he is representing, and though at times he seems overwhelmed by the “studio hand” that is on his shoulder, he is having fun making this movie and showing everything he adores about the world Blizzard has created. From the well realized opening to the energy within the action sequences, Jones clearly wants to prove he has something special in him – he just has yet to develop his own visual flare, to make the project work as a whole.
Similarly trying their hardest is the visual effects team, who definitely adore the Warcraft universe as much as Jones does. But unlike the director in question, the results of their hard labor come off much better by the film’s end, and are one of the shining examples towards why video game movies could/should work. In particular, one sequence, in which orc chief Durotan (Toby Kebbell) looks deeply into the eyes of his newborn son, showed the magnificent blending of both Kebbell and the movie wizard’s work as one seamless experience of fantasy entertainment.
But for every “Toby Kebbell,” there seems to be double the collection of awful – almost Razzie level worthy performances. Poor Paula Patton continues to be plagued movie after movie with roles that just dumb down her possible talents as an actress, and hold her up as only eye candy and nothing more. Both Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer are hilariously miscast as magic makers Medivh and Khadger, respectively – giving some of the highest level of Razzie level acting humanly possible. From Foster’s phoned in attempts at emotion, to Schnetzer’s lack of ability to sell any of his dialog, you could have gotten Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets to have been more convincing. And Universal’s favorite B-Level British Man, Dominic Cooper, rides into this movie in the role of King Llane with little to no enthusiasm, and seems to care more about his paycheck (and when he can get back to the set of Preacher) than giving a decent performance.
But the worst offense comes from Travis Fimmel (Vikings) as Sir Lothar, whose acting is a mess from start to finish. He has the emotional range of a molded Twinkie, with no charisma going on in any second of the film. This issue becomes especially apparent when Lothar is supposed to have a large emotional reaction to a death scene. Now, everyone of course has their own way of dealing with a murder happening in front of their eyes, but considering the relationship between these two, I would expect something more from Fimmel than just staring into space, with eyes more dead than the character that was just killed on screen.
As for the orcs of Warcraft, aside from Kebbell, many of them fade into the background. When you cast America’s acting treasure Clancy Brown (who plays the orc Blackhand) and you barely know how to use him or his villainous skills (hello, how can you forget Highlander!) then something is definitely going wrong here. And the same can be said for most of the other orc characters, who have about as much definition to their individual personalities as a pile of ripening avocados.
Ultimately, Warcraft should be the picture in the encyclopedia next to the word “frustrating.” It could and should have been excellent, especially considering who was involved and the amount of time it took to come to the big screen. But instead, the end result is that of a moderately “better” video game movie than most, but is nowhere near the cinematic experience that 2016’s comic book and other genre offerings have given us thus far. Hopefully, Assassin’s Creed will fare much better. But until then, I guess we have Warcraft to stand as the only “meh” video game movie to be made as of now, and that’s better than nothing – right?