Warcraft: The Beginning
Duncan Jones brings the world of Warcraft to life with Warcraft: The Beginning, the first in a trilogy that will continue in Warcraft: The Middle and conclude in Warcraft: The End.
That last part I made up but it was joke that I simply couldn’t resist. Now that the riotous laughter is over with I’ll actually talk about the film and if it works or not.
Many of you will be aware that movies adapted from video games haven’t always been the most successful translations. There’s something about the two mediums that just doesn’t quite marry up so the results are often less than stellar. I personally enjoy the Resident Evil films but more as a guilty pleasure than anything else as they definitely fail as adaptations. I enjoyed Tomb Raider when I was younger as well but I think it can generally be agreed that most attempts to adapt video games into film have ended badly.
Does this film buck that trend? In many ways it does but in other ways it doesn’t. Duncan Jones is definitely a fan of the video game as every attempt is made to be completely faithful to the source material. Many of the references are lost on me as I have never played it but I am assured that all of the core elements are there and everything is depicted in a way that fans will be able to recognise.
I don’t envy the task of having to translate such a massive world into a two hour film and I think an admirable attempt is made here. The story thrusts us right into the middle of the action which I really appreciated as I’m getting tired of the seemingly mandatory exposition serving as a prologue to lots of films that need to establish an unfamiliar world. There is an element of that but it is only to establish that Humans and Orcs have been at War for a long time. From then on we are expected to just go with it and trust the film to take us on a tour of this world and make us understand everything we need to.
Generally speaking it does, I was able to latch onto the shorthand at play to help me figure out who the important people were as well as what can and can’t be done in this universe. The only thing I was sketchy on was the limitations of magic but that’s a problem with magic as a device in general. I fully expect Marvel’s Doctor Strange to fail in establishing how magic actually works so that isn’t a criticism lobbied against this film as such. The point I’m making is that the world of Azeroth was really well established and I was able to follow the different races and some of the politics so a big success for Duncan Jones and his team there.
I struggled with the sheer number of characters on display here as there were far too many to really keep track of and connect to. Initially it looks like much of the focus will be on the Orc named Durotan (Toby Kebbell) – a new father who questions the current leadership and the King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) – a man driven to protect his people. As a focal point for the conflict this would have worked really well as there would have been variety in seeing Durotan’s point of view as well as that of the King and how they contrast with the current beliefs held by the Orc leader Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu). This would have provided a really accessible window into this world while keeping the conflict in the middle of it all.
The problem with these characters is that they are very thinly written to the point that they feel like a role in the story rather than people living in this world. Beyond the surface level traits established about them there is very little insight into who they are which makes it somewhat difficult to invest in the story that surrounds them.
There are hints at more interesting things going on beneath the surface. An attempt is made to promote an environmental message through the Orc forces turning everywhere they go into a wasteland and there’s some discussion of loyalty and corruption but it all gets lost among all of the other stuff going on.
Other characters such as the knight Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) and many others suffer similar issues and help create an overall sense of a plot filled with far too much content for a two hour film. It feels more muddled than it should considering the plot is fairly simple by comparison.
Not all of the characters are equally problematic. Garona (Paula Patton), an outcast Orc who comes to appreciate the values held by the humans by spending time among them is by far the strongest characters and where she ends up in the story is very bittersweet while feeling surprisingly real but she could have connected to the overall narrative a lot better as could many of the characters.
In terms of acting many of the performers seem to have trouble connecting to the material. It’s difficult to deliver fantasy dialogue and this definitely comes across here as plenty of lines are delivered with a lack of sincerity. Some fare better than others such as Toby Kebbell and Paula Patton but it is a recurring problem.
From a purely visual point of view this is an absolutely stunning experience. The CGI on the Orcs is nothing short of beautiful with frighteningly realistic facial animations. The world itself looks amazing as well as real scenery is blended with fantasy elements to create a world that looks and feels lived in. In that sense it helps that we see so much of it as it shows us how functional everything is.
The film also boasts some impressive action but there is a tendency for them to run on a bit which probably says more about how invested I was rather than how competently executed they were. I’ve mentioned that I found it difficult to connect to the characters so that creates the problem of a lack of investment in the action. Since I didn’t really care about what was going on it really felt like they ran on too long, particularly in the third act.
A passable attempt at a video game to movie adaptation that definitely has plenty to recommend about it. On a purely visual level it’s absolutely stunning and much of the action is very impressive. Many of the characters are thinly written which makes them harder to invest in but the world is built really well and there are hints of more interesting things going on beneath the surface. Duncan Jones’ love for the material shines through and it is a reasonable attempt at bringing such a huge world to life in the context of a two hour movie.
- impressive world building
- beautiful visuals
- impressive action
- thinly developed characters
- a lack of focus in the narrative