After watching Duncan Jones’ new addition to the fantasy genre, Warcraft, I can tell you: It’s a bloody hard genre, man…
As a frequent ‘in one ear and out the other’ player of exposition heavy games like “Dragon Age: Inquisition” and “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”, I can’t imagine the ultimately tough job creating fantasy must be. I mean we’ve been graced with iconic outstanding films like Lord of the Rings and as privileged people we’ve set it as the bar. The status every film in the genre after is competing against. One side of the audience wanting more grit and realism, the other side more colour and radicalism. It’s really like stepping into a minefield.
I will give Jones massive credit for stepping into that minefield with such positivity. Determined to make a film that’s both faithful to fans and accessible to all based on a game that apparently has twenty plus years of established lore. That’s a tall order and a lot of things going against you for a guy who has only made two films in his career so far. Not to mention the curse of video game movies keeping all eyes on him. If Lord of the Rings is the socially agreed bar we’re going with, Warcraft certainly doesn’t hit it, but there is enough to appreciate and be justly disappointed with.
Where the film works is scale. The actual world of Warcraft (wink wink) is grand. It’s spacious, bright and intimidating. You just see these great establishing shots of all the castles and the battlegrounds and you keep swearing to yourself “Is this a New Zealand tourist ad?! That looks gorge– OH MY GOSH, THAT’S A SNOW MOUNTAIN!!”. If we’re talking visual effects these sections were on point and went above and beyond. The faces of the Orcs and all the armour had the cartoonish designs of the games just with a scary, realistic paint-job which I surprisingly wasn’t bothered by. It’s the way Jones uses camera movement and action where he excels. These sequences heavy and bone crushing, finding myself gritting my teeth accordingly, VERY sure that Warhammer just turned a guy into hamburger. When they throw down they really throw down. Humans and Orcs slashing to a huge orchestral score in big fantastical glory.
Where the film doesn’t work sadly is making everything that’s happening on screen matter. Telling a worthwhile story with character and emotion in a smooth enough way to leave you satisfied. It almost reminded me of “300: Rise of an Empire” without the dreary Snyder colour aesthetic or a quality antagonist like Eva Green. Warcraft following a cast of characters that are almost interchangeable if not for a few exceptions. People like Travis Fimmel’s token white male of awesome being pretty awesome as expected. Toby Kebbell proving his motion capture is getting up there with a legend like Andy Serkis. The rest however were either fine or downright cringe worthy. People like Ben Schnetzer who absolutely annoyed the gosh darn hell out of my audience to the point we laughed at his entire goofy role. The incredibly underrated Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) and Rogue Nation’s Paula Patton directed to go over-the-top fantastical too. The characters were put into visual effects heavy scenes that at times looked very artificial, and not in the cool video gamey “this is a Warcraft game put to screen” sort of way, but rather “this was made under a tight schedule”. The backgrounds were floaty and unnatural. Some of the sets inside the castles and on the battlefields were, extremely clean, looking at one point like a deodorant commercial for LYNX body spray. Adding on top of all that the cast’s American accents that stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s a lot to take in.
I could pass some of these off if Duncan Jones had a tighter, smoother film and script, that had more effective ways of laying out the world, paired up with solid performances all around, but that just didn’t happen. Warcraft as a film just lacks structure. The film would cut from one place to the other at very odd times without any transition or rhythm. Moving from a forced romantic scene at night to them staking out an Orc battleground during the morning in a second. Someone discovering a piece of evidence and going off to this god-like group that were mentioned maybe once in quick “blink and you miss it” dialogue. I didn’t even know the name of the land was called Azeroth until I checked it on IMDB since they only mention it maybe twice in the film. You end up liking most of the land but you never get a grasp on what it is or even its names. Attempting to tell the tale of so many characters in this runtime is just too much for Jones to do in the span of two hours. The niche audience can eat it up easily, but as someone who’s never played a Warcraft game, enjoys fantasy well enough and just wants tangible characters and some details given, clearly… It didn’t really nail it.
It annoys me because I love Duncan Jones. I can sense the undying love he has for Warcraft. I can see the film is trying to please the fan, the newcomer and everyone in between. It’s niche and geeky and should be bombastic awesome, but where it wants me to embrace it, I end up growing more distant and left wishing it had those quality visuals throughout the whole thing, along with consistent editing. Wishing the emotional urgency and character was there – at one point a major character is removed from the film and I didn’t even realise until the last few minutes. Wishing it took that extra hour to set up the political conflict between the species and the need for war. As they say “special effects without characters are just visual noise”. Warcraft is occasionally fun visual noise. If you’re a fan of World of Warcraft and goofy balls-to-the-wall fantasy you’ll probably have a blast. It’s a film willing and able to accept your hugs… I’ll just wait for “The Last of Us” adaptation for my next fix.
The film went through 20 months of post production. Thomas Tull the CEO of Legendary Pictures and producer of the film said that the things Duncan Jones and the special effects team are doing are truly on the cutting edge.