Acclaimed director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has already proven his worth at creating lo-fi. thought provoking, science fiction with his two previous films. Here he is tasked with bringing online gaming phenomenon World of Warcraft into the cinematic realm. His transfer to elaborate, big budget, franchise filmmaking has yielded mixed results. While the film is technically and visually impressive, it badly lacks the narrative inventiveness and tight plotting that has defined his other work. While not a complete disaster, the film never really adds anything new to the fantasy epic genre, with an abundance of CGI and genre tropes employed. The Lord of the Rings echoes in every frame and Warcraft doesn’t come close to the standards reached by Peter Jackson in even his most tawdry middle earth moments.
The plot centres on a battle between orcs and humans. With their own world Draenor dying, an army of orcs, led by treacherous warlock Gul’dan (Dan Wu) utilise the mysterious magic of fel to create a portal to the world of Azeroth, home to humans, elves and dwarves. Their mission is to conquer and destroy, literally draining the life force from their captives in order to ensure their own survival. It is up to King Llane (Dominic Cooper), ruler of Azeroth and his trusted subjects, most notably knight champion Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), to defeat the invaders and restore peace to the kingdom.
For Jones, a long-time gamer with a 20 year history of playing Warcraft, this is very much a passion project. This translates quite well on screen. The world he has created is visually striking, enriched with meticulous attention to detail and stunning set design. Visual effects and stop motion animation are effective without being overly intrusive and the cast deliver generally strong performances. The characters are well drawn and the film has a number of compelling subplots woven into the narrative. The orcs are particularly well depicted. Orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebble) is wary of Gul’dan’s methods and primarily concerned for the safety of his mate Draka (Anna Galvin) and their newborn son. His friendship with war chief Orgrim Doomhammer (Robert Kazinsky) and their respective uncertainty about the invasion of Azeroth is well conveyed and provides the film with it’s strongest story strand. Another stand-out character is half orc Garona (Paula Patton). Her split allegiance between the orcs and humans is further complicated by the fledgling romance between herself and Anduin. The relationship between the pair drives the narrative and provides the film with some potent dramatic impetus.
Jones has done a decent job in making the Warcraft universe accessible to an audience unfamiliar with the source material, while also ensuring that enthusiasts are well catered for. Where the film stumbles badly is in it’s overall structure. Like many franchise films, Warcraft suffers from having one eye on the next instalment instead of focusing on telling a concise, self contained story. The film is a disjointed mess because of it and builds to a disappointing climax which merely serves to set up a sequel. There’s certainly potential for further instalments, but a tighter script would have made for a much more satisfying cinematic experience.
Video game adaptations have consistently proven to be problematic and poorly conceived, from Silent Hill, Super Mario Bros to Lara Croft: Tombraider and countless other endeavours that have yielded deeply flawed products. Warcraft is better than most but doesn’t entirely buck the trend. Generic, poorly plotted and only fleetingly compelling, it never quite gels. A noble, ambitious but ultimately incoherent effort from an undoubtedly gifted filmmaker.