At The Movies: Warcraft

Another weekend, another big-budget, wannabe-blockbuster movie that turns out to be more “meh” than “ohh, ahhh.”

It’s not that “Warcraft” is a bad movie — the special effects and the orc designs and the world creating is pretty good — but most of the characters lack character, the movie is overstuffed with ideas and concepts that aren’t adequately explained, it’s too derivative of other fantasy films, it seems more interested in setting up sequels than telling a story, and it just doesn’t have much spark.

Based on a series of video games, “Warcraft” opens on the dying home world of the orcs. Orcs are ugly, violent, bloodthirsty types — but they have a code of honor. They’re like Klingons with tusks. Having destroyed their own planet, the orcs have decided to invade the lush new world of Azeroth.

destiny-warcraft-movie-poster-675The orcs have planet-hopping abilities thanks to their leader, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), who uses dark magic to create a portal using the life force of his captured enemies.

The good people of Azeroth — who look a lot like humans except for the ones that look like elves and trolls and such — are not going to take this invasion lightly. Heading up the resistance are King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), his  military leader Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), and the wizard Medivh (Ben Foster). There’s also a young outcast mage (Ben Schnetzer) who just wants to be of service.

Caught in the middle of this epic struggle are Durotan (Toby Kebbell) an orc chieftain who thinks Gul’dan is out of his mind, and Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton), an outcast orc who is taken in by the humans.

I didn’t really appreciate how good “The Lord of the Rings” movies were until I watched “Warcraft.” The stories are similar and yet the execution is worlds apart.

First up: Casting. Director Peter Jackson used veteran and newcomers to bring to life a variety of larger-than-life characters in “LOTR.” Director Duncan Jones uses primarily lesser-known talent and it shows. Not only do they not make the characters alive, they don’t make me care for them. Except for Durotan, and maybe Garona. And when your two most interesting characters are the orcs, you need to spend more time fleshing out the humans.

Second: World-building. “LOTR” and “Warcraft” drop you into a new world you’ve never experienced before, but the former took the time to let you get a feel for the people and places, while the latter just drops things out there and doesn’t really care if you follow along.

Finally: The franchise. While we knew going in that “LOTR” was a trilogy, Jackson still made each film stand on its own. “Warcraft” is mostly an exercise in set-up. It leaves too many unanswered questions and unresolved situations for a film that isn’t assured it will be around for another installment.

Still, it is a pretty film — and a violent one. If you’re really into the video games or you really enjoy fantasy spectacles it’s worth your time. Director Jones doesn’t always follow the path you expect a movie like this to go down, so that’s refreshing. Infuriating at times, but refreshing.

 

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