Review of “Warcraft”

The orc world of Draenor is almost dead. Orc leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) plans on using a form of magic called fel to open a portal to another world full of life called Azeroth. Fel requires energy be drained from living creatures and plants to power it so Gul’dan gathers up the last remaining life on Draenor to open the portal and send a raiding party to gather up more life to sacrifice so the rest of his horde can be brought through later. One of his soldiers, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) brings along his warrior wife Draka (Anna Galvin) who is close to giving birth. During the journey through the portal, Draka goes into labor and delivers a stillborn child after arriving in Azeroth. Gul’dan removes the life force from a deer and imbues the child with fel, bringing it to life. The orc raiders begin attacking villages and collecting prisoners to sacrifice to the fel. Military commander Anduin Lothar is informed of the raids and looks over some of the dead villagers. He discovers a mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) is at the barracks that hasn’t identified himself. Khadgar believes there’s something more going on than raiders attacking the villagers and Lothar allows him to examine one of the bodies. One corpse expels a green mist when Khadgar looks him over. Khadgar knows it is the fel and urges the Guardian be called in. Medivh (Ben Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal, is entrusted to keep all the realms of Azeroth safe with his magic. King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), once he is informed of Khadgar’s concerns, approves summoning Medivh. Lothar informs Medivh about the threat while Khadgar waits in the library. While there, he notices a shadowy figure in front of a particular book. As he approaches, the figure disappears but Khadgar puts the book in his bag. Medivh, Lothar and Khadgar go to King Wrynn where Medivh explains how dangerous the fel is and how the orcs must be stopped. King Wrynn sends a scouting team to who is attacking the kingdom but they are ambushed by orcs and several are killed. Medivh uses a spell to force the fel out of those orcs who are infected by it and they die. Durotan isn’t infected and he and some other orcs escape. A half-breed orc named Garona (Paula Patton), treated as a slave by the orcs, is captured. Durotan realizes the fel is what killed Draenor and he believes the only way the orc can survive is to kill Gul’dan. Garona is offered her freedom in exchange for loyalty to King Wrynn and is sent on a mission with Lothar and others to spy on the orcs. Durotan finds Garona and offers to meet with King Wrynn to form an alliance to defeat Gul’dan.

“Warcraft” is based on a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG for short) that at one time had about 12 million active subscribers but the last available information from late 2015 put the number at 5.5 million. Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created the game, obviously would like to both build up the number of users and generate income in other ways from the property hence a movie. The game of Warcraft would seem to be fertile ground for a genre film with the various realms, clans and magic wielders to work with. Since a movie has an end and the game doesn’t, it requires a story be crafted that can weave all the threads into a watchable and entertaining whole and that’s the problem with “Warcraft.”

The script certainly has a great deal of world building in it. We are introduced to several characters, fantastical creatures and magic in the first few minutes. As the movie continues, more characters, backstories and political intrigue is added to the mix. There is a great deal of information to process in “Warcraft” but none of it really adds up to become an interesting story. The little there is merely in place to set up a sequel and possibly several more films. It’s like the screenwriters decided to put off figuring out a good story for the next installment. If this movie was free then I’d be more forgiving but since I had to pay, I prefer having something far more interesting and engaging to watch.

While “Warcraft” is mostly visually interesting the orcs, who get almost as much screen time as the humans, don’t quite measure up to the quality of other CGI/mo-cap characters like those in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot and the most recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” films. They have a decided “video game” look about them as if the digital artists didn’t quite have time to add all the final touches. All the scenes involving the orcs, especially when they are in large numbers, look flat like they are pictures cut out and glued to the screen. The interaction between the digital orcs and live-action actors also looks a bit odd in a couple of battle scenes. It appears the actors weren’t exactly sure where the orcs would be and don’t react to them until they are struck by their weapons. It was rather obvious in the battle that occurs in the woods.

None of the actors are particularly memorable in their roles. Of course, all the orcs are buried under CGI makeup so judging their performances is more difficult. The humans are all very serious in their characters with the only one showing much in the way of life is Travis Fimmel as Lothar. He gets to be a bit playful at times, especially with Khadgar; but he also must deal with the tongue tangling names of the various characters and realms and try to keep a straight face while doing it. He is also saddled with a somewhat inappropriate romance that flares up at a noticeably inopportune time. That bit of story really lands with a thud and could have easily been left out.

“Warcraft” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence. The orcs wield massive hammers and axes that likely kill any human with one blow. There is very little human blood and not much orc. We see an orc limb cut off and several orcs and humans are run through with swords. There is one human death that is particularly enjoyed by the orc that kills him. Foul language is not an issue.

There are a great many moving parts to the story of “Warcraft.” There are alliances, betrayals, governmental squabbling, jealousy, love, magic and much more. Sadly, it doesn’t add up to a coherent story with much of interest to say. “Warcraft” is what “Back to the Future II” was accused of being: A very long trailer for the next installment. While there are some interesting visuals of magic being used and fantastical flying creatures like gryphons and massive eagles used as transportation, all the pretty pictures aren’t enough to overcome the lack of story and the feeling that “Warcraft” is incomplete.

“Warcraft” gets one star out of five.

This week there’s a fish out of water story along with a fish in the water story. I’ll see and review at least one of these films:

Central Intelligence—

Finding Dory—

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