Warcraft: The Beginning introduces a lore that is too big to handle in a two hour film, but Duncan Jones is still able to make a compelling case for the highs this material could reach.
Based off the video game of the same name, Warcraft introduces us to a world with humans, dwarves, elves, wizards and now orcs. The orcs are leaving their dying homeworld, lead by their Warlock leader Gul’dan, who uses an evil magical power called the fel (powered by sucking the life out of anything living) to open a portal into the world of Azeroth. The citizens of Azeroth are confused with where these Orcs are coming from and what they want with their world, but the humans of Azeroth are left with the brunt of the defense. The story isn’t straight good and evil, with varying factions in every race having complex positions, but to get into all of that would take forever.
And sadly, the two hour Warcraft doesn’t have enough time to get into all of this either. For a property that is already trading pretty hard on Tolkien iconography already, I think Jones could have really benefited from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation and opened the film with a prologue of some sorts. You feel like you are playing catch up with the history of the world and these characters right from the get go and just when you start to feel like you have a grasp on things the film starts endlessly dropping lore through exposition through the entirety of the back half of the film. This does hold back the film from ever finding a flow, but I don’t wish it wasn’t trying to tell us all of this history of the world. I love how much Jones wants us to know about this world, I just wish he had more breathing room to do it. Actually, all the lore dropping doesn’t really hurt the film all that much, what hurts the film is that we never really got a good grasp of the core trio on the Azeroth side of the story between the King, his lead commander and the wizard Guardian of the realm. The emotion of the final scenes of this film is dependent on these three’s relationship and we never get much more than lip service to it. In fact, the biggest emotional beat of the finale surrounding the Azeroth King is centered around a relationship between he and an orc half-breed that has joined their side that isn’t even built up in the slightest. The orcs and humans are the only races of Warcraft that really get much screen time, the wizards are the clear third, but don’t expect anything from the dwarves and elves in this film.
Again, this is a lot about how this isn’t working, but Warcraft still compelled me for almost all of its runtime. I might have felt a little lost, or noticed the weak character development, but Jones keeps things moving and doesn’t really let you think about these shortcomings. I like the look of the film, the effects are very impressive, the action is pretty good, Jones is never afraid to let the fantasy flag fly, there is a lot to appreciate here, it’s just too much for a movie of this length. You never bat an eye at most of the effects work here, which is impressive as much of the film is told entirely from the orc perspective. Speaking of the orcs, I quite enjoyed their side of the story and felt like we had a much firmer grasp on their side of the story. Sure, it is a little more straight forward, but it has its fair share of twists and turns too among the key relationships and you feel the emotional weight of their story in the finale. Toby Kebbell delivers another fantastic mo-cap performance as the orc lead, Durotan, easily the best thing about this film which I think has a lot to like.
Warcraft’s cast is full of fun performances, but no one really gets a chance to really stand out either. Everyone more or less fall into a type with a little bit of story giving them one defining personality trait. Ben Foster gets to have the most fun as the all powerful wizard and Guardian of Azeroth, Medivh. We never really get to know what his relationship to that Azeroth trio I mentioned before is, but he sells the silliness of the magic and spells he is supposed to be casting in this film. Dominic Cooper plays Azeroth’s human king, and he delivers a solid, kingly performance, while Paula Patton is convincing as an Orc and other in this world as she deals with her inner-confliction. Travis Fimmel is supposed to be the heroic, badass lead on the human side of things, and while he gets to show that off he is given a ton of the comic relief in the film. I guess that is appealing on paper, but it just felt a bit odd on the screen. I also never really bought into Ben Schnetzer’s wizard character. I appreciated his wide eyed enthusiasm, but it came off a bit too silly, especially for where he finishes up in the film.
Warcraft: The Beginning is an ambitious effort from Duncan Jones, but was sadly too much in the end. I still had fun with the film, but there are clearly some elements of the film not working, especially in the back half. Still, I would love to see his supposed 40 minute longer director’s cut and will happily see the sequel that the Chinese audiences are sure to bring us in the next few years. If you like big fantasy or were a fan of the game franchise, Warcraft is worth checking out, but laymen might find themselves extremely lost and wondering WTF is going on.