Director: Duncan Jones (2016)
Feeling defeated after two hours of crushing cartoon violence, I beat a hasty retreat from this fantasy adventure.
Two worlds go to war in this combination of live action and state of the art animation.
Using motion capture technology, every sabre toothed hairy backed orc is lovingly rendered by photorealistic motion capture. They combat actors sporting lovingly detailed suits of armour.
It’s based on a hugely popular online video game and is set in a extraordinarily designed Tolkienesque world of humans, orcs, dwarves, elves and wizards.
But it’s a sadly underpowered drama of unfathomable mythology and unexplained geography.
Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal (1982) seems to be a distant visual relative though Warcraft lacks its charm and clear narrative.
Although there’s no A list cast names, Warcraft possesses a recognised brand, a healthy budget and an up and coming director with a passion for the project.
But after this humdrum opener, it’s tricky to see how it will power the intended franchise to continued success.
There’s little sense of the early promise of Jones directorial career which kicked off with the smart and intimate sci fi thriller Moon (2009). It is an intelligent and intimate chamber piece. His follow up Source Code (2011) was less strong and now Warcraft completes a downward trajectory from which I hope he will recover.
A self confessed super fan of the game, Jones creates a world of extraordinary visual depth. With the excited air of a wayward puppy he rushes about to include as much of it as possible.
This is to the detriment of the dramatic tone which mostly occurs within a narrow bandwith, hovering at the level of Saturday morning kids TV.
A major contributing factor in the magnificence of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings (2001-03) trilogy was having the good fortune to be based on the writings of an Oxford scholar and the canny casting of experienced Shakespearean actors to give his dialogue gravitas. An under reliance on computer imagery helped enormously to ground the fantastical elements.
There’s a noticeable lack of such rich cultural heritage here. This is a shame as buried deep down is a cracking old fashioned story of family, betrayal and star crossed lovers.
Daniel Wu glowers as Gul’dan, a powerful orc shaman whose world is dying. Human sacrifice powers his evil green magic which he uses to open a portal into the peaceful human kingdom of Azeroth.
He sends through his fearsome orc warriors to conquer it, crushing their enemies with a signature move of using huge hammers to slam them bloodlessly into the ground.
The orcs are awesome looking eight foot tall humanoids. Pneumatically muscled and sabre toothed, they dress in in the skulls and furs of defeated foes.
Defending their land against the horde are a collection of wizards and warriors. They’re led by a puzzled looking Dominic Cooper who plays King Llane.
I shared his confusion as the story whizzes from castle to battle to floating fortress in the sky.
Travis Fimmel’s knight and Paula Patton’s green skinned half orc captive are given the best of the scarce humour. The way these two characters are brought together and assume greater prominence is one of the film’s few strengths.
As orcs who question Gul’dan’s vicious regime, Toby Kebbell and Anna Galvin give the most effecting performances and share a personal chemistry notably lacking almost everywhere else.
On the eve of the final battle, the King gives us two words from Shakespeare’s Henry V Agincourt speech before rushing off for yet another fight. This suggests a lack of confidence in the attention span of the audience.
As everyone struggles with the functional dialogue, CGI armies slash, stab and slay. A lot of casualties are reduced to husks when their life force is sucked out of them.
It’s a risk unwary viewers will share.