Ay yi yi. Where to even begin? How about here: Sitting through Warcraft is like being bludgeoned on the head with a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual for 123 minutes. The big hardcover one. Terrible even by the low standard of videogame-to-movie adaptations, Duncan Jones’ 3-D action-fantasy endurance test is a cautionary tale of what can happen when Hollywood blindly chases after popular properties in the hopes of minting the next blockbuster franchise. When it works, the studio gets rich and the fans are respected and rewarded. When it doesn’t, you get the next Speed Racer or Jonah Hex or Lone Ranger — which is exactly what Warcraft will end up becoming. It’s soulless, incoherent, Renaissance Faire hooey. And since the latest iteration of game series that inspired it, World of Warcraft, already peaked years ago, even the timing is off.
For the uninitiated, the story chronicles the origins of a bloody interspecies clash between humans and orcs—a hulking, he-man race of warriors with pointy gremlin ears, tusk-like bicuspids, and ropy Predator braids. They look like Klingons who swallowed Conan the Barbarian and Hellboy. While the orcs are ruled by an evil leader named Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), they’re not all savages. One, in particular, a big-hearted brute called Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is quickly established as a devoted husband and father after his orc wife Draka (Anna Galvin) gives birth to a baby orc, who coos like a shorn Furby. Needless to say, Durotan’s not down with Gul’dan and is conflicted by his plan to unleash his orc horde through a shimmering portal and attack the puny humans, who are even less defined as characters than their orc tormentors. Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel plays the wisecracking hero Lothar (I kept waiting for Rick Moranis to show up to say whether he was the Gatekeeper or the Key Master), Dominic Cooper is the bland King Llayne, and poor Ben Foster pops up as the magical Medivh. (Is there a better actor choosing worse roles right now?) They all stand around stiffly mumbling Tolkien-esque jibberish about boomsticks, spellthrowers, Golems, and something called “The Fel”, which seems to be really important, but I couldn’t tell you why. Caught in between these two warring tribes is Paula Patton’s Garona, a green-skinned human-orc “half-breed” who’s almost unintelligible since she seems to have a pair of plastic novelty Halloween fangs in her mouth. Maybe she explained what The Fel was.
As the orcs and the humans scheme and do battle, director and co-writer Jones waves his CGI wand like a cudgel, pounding the audience into numb submission. It’s a relentlessly depressing experience. Not simply because the movie is bad—there are plenty of bad movies—but because Jones has been such a promising filmmaker. His two previous efforts, 2009’s Moon and 2011’s Source Code, were both insanely clever stories made with modest budgets and crackerjack craftsmanship. But Warcraft is so enormous he probably lost his grip on the kind of movie he was trying to make—and who he was making it for. Perhaps he was too close to it. Maybe being such an avowed fan of the videogame made Jones too nearsighted to translate its universe and what makes it so interesting to a broader audience. That’s why hardcore fans rarely make effective missionaries. Their zeal is too narrow to convert anyone to their cause. It’s also why sitting through Warcraft feels like you’re watching a foreign film without subtitles…and with the reels in the wrong order. The storytelling is ham-fisted and silly, the characters are dull and unmemorable, and despite its massive budget, the special effects look cheap and cheesy. Worst of all, Warcraft is basically two hours of set-up for a sequel that may never happen and one you’d probably skip anyway. D