WARCRAFT (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Intense Fantasy Violence

Warcraft poster

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Written by: Charles Leavitt & Duncan Jones

(based on the video game WARCRAFT by Blizzard Entertainment)

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu & Clancy Brown

Based on the hugely popular computer games, WARCRAFT has been touted as the first possibly good video game movie. Though there’s already one great video game film in existence (SILENT HILL), WARCRAFT is guaranteed to please fans of the source material and serves as a decent fantasy-adventure for newcomers. My brother (a big WARCRAFT fan) and I (who knew nothing about the games) saw this movie in a packed Thursday night showing. As a video game movie geared towards a loyal fanbase, the movie seems to work phenomenally with its target audience and had tons of Easter eggs (as I discovered from research and big laughs from the theater audience). Taken purely as a film, WARCRAFT is a decently entertaining and somewhat cheesy fantasy-adventure.

WARCRAFT, Travis Fimmel, 2016. © Universal Pictures /courtesy Everett Collection

The orc world of Draenor is dying and its green-skinned inhabitants are desperate to find a new home. Orc shaman Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) uses the fel (dangerous black magic that feeds on life) to open up a massive portal into Azeroth, a realm that’s home to humans, warlocks, elves, and dwarves. As violent raids spread across the Azeroth, military commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) tries to find a way to stop the invading green menace. With the help of mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), guardian wizard Medivh (Ben Foster), and King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), Lothar forms an uneasy alliance with rebel orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) in order to stop Gul’dan’s sinister life-sucking magic.

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Sporting a price tag of 160 million dollars, WARCRAFT relies on a lot of special effects to bring its fantastical world to the big screen. I’d wager that the visuals are 90% computer-generated. We see expansive castles, blackened canyons, hordes of hulking orcs, other creatures, and various forms of magic. Nearly every bit of the film’s CGI looks great, but truly shines in its exciting battle sequences. Not every special effect looks stellar though, because there are cheesy shots of life force being sucked out of helpless victims. Another silly moment comes in a shadowy figure whose presence is never fully explained. Still, when taken on a sheer spectacle, WARCRAFT is fun.

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The orcs are brought to life through motion capture performances. Toby Kebbell (who already worked through motion capture in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) is great as the reluctant Durotan and mainly serves as our protagonist on the orc side. Robert Kazinsky is good enough as Durotan’s second-in-command Orgrim Doomhammer. Daniel Wu is one-dimensional as the evil Gul’dan, while Clancy Brown does well as his vicious second-in-command Blackhand. Paula Patton is the best orc character as half-breed Garona Halforcen, whose story arc proves to be one of the film’s biggest highlights.

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As far the humans go, Travis Fimmel takes the lead as Lothar. Other than the TV series VIKINGS, Fimmel hasn’t really done much of note, but that he’s a reasonably charismatic lead. Fimmel’s likability and humor make his character’s arc feel more special than it probably is. Dominic Cooper is bland and forgettable in the role of King Wrynn. He’s a stubborn leader and that’s about all there is to his character. The two main wizards are entertaining in completely different ways. Ben Schnetzer’s Khadgar provides comic relief and plays a very important role in the overall story. Meanwhile, Ben Foster’s Medivh seems like a drug addict who’s addicted to a pool of magic. He constantly needs to recharge after casting big spells, which leads to one of the film’s most intense scenes.

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In terms of storytelling, WARCRAFT is slow and convoluted at the start (quickly jumping between three major locations within the first ten minutes), but quickly picks up the pace and becomes more enjoyable as it goes along. The special effects are mostly great, save for a couple of cheesy moments. The good performances also far outweigh the bland ones. The battle sequences are easily this movie’s biggest highlights, but I was also interested in how the story would play out. WARCRAFT is a fun flick and nowhere near deserving of the intense backlash it has been receiving from most critics. Fans of the games will likely enjoy it far more than uninitiated moviegoers, but it’s a decently entertaining summer blockbuster nonetheless.

Grade: B-

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