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Warcraft (IMAX 3D)

Universal // PG-13 // June 10, 2016
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted June 9, 2016 | E-mail the Author

The video game industry has been a source of finding material for action films for years. World of Warcraft was once titled as being the most played game in the world, but the content owners at Blizzard held the property close. Apparently now is the time to bring this universe to the big screen, although writer/director Duncan Jones and co-writer Charles Leavitt made the conscious decision to tell the story from the very beginning - the first game from the franchise titled Warcraft. In an attempt to bring a Lord of the Rings level of epic to the big screen, the filmmakers have failed to bring this story to audiences in a way that added any significant depth to the plot and its characters.

The realm of Azeroth has finally found peace, until they discover that their land is being invaded by a fearsome group of orcs with a promise of a war against the Horde. The portal to transport the remainder of this army requires a great deal of life to power it, which instantly catches the attention of the King (Dominic Cooper) and the Guardian (Ben Foster). They must stop this enemy's all-powerful leader Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), or face distinction.

The decision to tell the original story of the humans versus the orcs is a mixed bag. It seems common sense to start by telling a story from the beginning, but it's one of the franchise's least cinematic offerings. All of the other races that live in this part of the universe refuse to join this war, instantly causing the film to feel less epic in scale. While faithful to the source material, this seems like a story that should have been told after the filmmakers have proven that audiences want to see how this story all began. Nevertheless, fans will be excited to see some of the old-school characters on the silver screen, such as Medivh, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), and Blackhand (Clancy Brown). However, the biggest favorites on the side of the orcs aren't given a lot to do, making them feel more like cameos than anything else.

Warcraft's attempts to include an abundance of game references and in-jokes are both a strength and a hindering blow, depending whose perspective you're looking at it from. Fans will greatly appreciate the nods, including Murlocks lurking in landscape shots, although newcomers will find themselves lost in a world that doesn't feel well-created for the silver screen. They will have absolutely no feelings for the protagonists or the antagonists, as the film relies on you already having developed such connections while playing the games. It doesn't include much disposition on the world or its characters, which will certainly bore those who haven't played the games. When you place all of the fun references aside, Warcraft is the formulaic and tired action flick that critics and audiences complain about year after year. It's loud, generic action without any pay-off.

Jones and Leavitt display a promise that the story and its characters will only become more exciting for fans in its sequels, as we're teased characters and plots that we want to see. However, the problem is that we're so far in the past, we don't get to actually experience any of it. Warcraft is suddenly really dramatic when it wants to be, but without earning an ounce of the emotion that it seeks to obtain. The death scenes of characters and personal moments feel more like pieces of weak string to hold us over until the next clash of digital armies, which causes the film to feel insanely rushed. The filmmakers never take the time to make us care about these characters, other than saying, "Look! Remember him from the games? And him? Do you feel sentimental yet?" There has to be more to a film to make it feel authentic and engaging.

The casting department successfully brought the characters to life as far as looks go, although the same cannot entirely be said about their talent. The portrayals are just as one-dimensional as the characters themselves. Dominic Cooper is the stereotypical King, while Ben Foster appears to be bored as the mythical Medivh. Foster is a great choice for the part, although the script doesn't give him much to do with the role. However, Paula Patton's performance as Garona is perhaps the cheesiest thing about the whole film, which is really saying something. Nobody sees action films for the performances, but it's distracting when they're noticeably poor.

Perhaps one of the only compliments that I can give Warcraft is its close attention to detail in the universe itself. Duncan Jones takes the audience through the landscapes in a way that will instantly bring fans back to the game. There are many familiar perspectives and locations that will certainly leave players with joy. This is a world delivered in a visually gorgeous fashion. The orcs are a mixed bag, as Gul'dan looks great, while Garona's prosthetics are reminiscent of the budget found in a fan film found on YouTube. Even so, the magic casting has a sufficient amount of oomph, with familiar spells and all. The IMAX 3D presentation provides a strong sense of depth into the universe with the loud surround sound that the film requires. I remain unconvinced that 3D is necessary to enjoy a film, but if it's your thing, this one takes depth over goofy effects shooting out of the screen.

Warcraft delivers on all of the fun references that fans will be seeking in this adaptation, although it does little to expand upon the universe for newcomers. The history of the orcs and humans was always rather one-dimensional, but the film never adds any depth to its characters or their motivations to make us care about their goals and hardships. Writer/director Duncan Jones does a wonderful job visually bringing the world to life, which instantly brings players of the game back to various familiar locations that will leave them giddy. Warcraft is worth seeing for the players, but should be avoided by newcomers.



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