WarcraftReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/09/16 16:24:36
Even though it arrives in theaters with some of the worst advance word in recent memory, I must confess that I went to the press screening of “Warcraft,” the long-gestating screen adaptation of the popular video game franchise with slightly more enthusiasm than I might ordinarily manage to muster up under the circumstances. The early reviews were terrible, of course, but they were so terrible—with “Battlefield Earth” being used as a point of comparison in some cases—that they suggested that it would be more than just a run-of-the-mill craptacular like “X-Men: Apocalypse” or that Ninja Turtle nonsense. My utter lack of knowledge about the history of the property—I know nothing about the video games other than the fact that they exist—might in this case work in my favor in that by not focusing on how it lines up and deviates from the source, I might enjoy it more than a nit-picking obsessive fan in the way that the film version of “The Bonfire of the Vanities” seems to play a little better with those who hadn’t read the book before seeing what was done with it. Finally, it was directed by Duncan Jones, whose first two films, “Moon” and “Source Code,” were two examples of smart and original genre storytelling that offered viewers more than the empty calories of elaborate eye candy—even if he wound up making a bad movie, the promise of his earlier works suggested that it might at least be an interesting failure.Well, it took maybe five minutes for “Warcraft” to completely strip me of any hope that it would go down as an interesting failure. This is a ghastly work of sheer incompetence that combines smeary visual, ear-shattering noise and plot elements ripped off wholesale from virtually every fantasy film of note from the last three decades or so—with “Lord of the Rings,” “Avatar” and “Game of Thrones” being the most notable of the unwitting donors—in a package that has literally nothing of value to offer anyone. Say what you will about “Battlefield Earth”—it was so insanely bad and filled with so many moments of unintentional hilarity that it was at least never dull. “Warcraft,” on the other hand, doesn’t even have the charm to be entertainingly awful—the only thing that will prevent most viewers from simply dozing off is that it is so loud throughout that one comes out of it feeling as if they have spend the last two hours being smacked upside the head with sledgehammers.
The plot. . . how to describe the plot? This is not a rhetorical question, mind you—the film is so baffling on even the most basic narrative levels that there are long stretches of time when I was completely at a loss as to what was going on before me. As far as I have been able to piece together, a race of humungous warrior monsters known as Orcs (just one of the many elements taken wholesale from “Lord of the Rings”) have found a portal that will allow them to transport their own dying world to the peaceful human kingdom of Azeroth and wage war for control. Of course, there is one Orc soldier, Durotan (Toby Kebbel) who, perhaps softened by the recent birth of his first child, wonders if perhaps the bloodshed is unnecessary and that Orc and humans can coexist in harmony. Nonsense, says Orc war chief Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and his right-hand warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), there is no possible way that humans and Orcs could ever possibly come together for anything. Of course, the presence of Garona (Paula Patton), a slave who appears to be half-human, half-Orc, suggests that is not entirely true but I suppose that anyone waiting for details in that regard will have to wait for the porn knockoff.
On the human side, Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) is a knight in the service of King Wrynn of Stormwood (Dominic Cooper) who is trying to find a way to avert war as well. Along with aspiring mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), he ventures off to find legendary guardian and magician Medivh (Ben Foster) to seek his assistance. The three eventually come across Garona and discover Gul’dan’s diabolical plot to bring the entire Orc army over to conquer the land by using the same magic that caused their own planet to go sideways in the first place. From this point on, the film just devolves into an endless series of battle sequences that are occasionally interrupted by moments in which characters deal with tragedy and betrayal, moments that might have had slightly more impact if I had any of who they were or what was going on.
There is a chance, I suppose, that all of this makes perfect sense to those who have played the game over the years. That is all well and good but for those of us who haven’t devoted hundreds of hours to playing it, “Warcraft” is an epic study in audience frustration that never lets viewers in to understand what is going on. Obviously you can tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are but that is about as far as the film goes in explaining things. For the most part, the actors seem just as confused as they wander around the sets in uncomfortable costumes grinding out dialogue that they are unable to make convincing. (Foster comes off the worst with a performance that seems to suggest what might have resulted if Sean Penn had played Gandalf instead of Ian McKellen. To make matters even more excruciating, the film, despite its inherent ridiculousness, takes itself way too serious for its own good. Even “The Lord of the Rings” films had moments of humor and good cheer amidst the chaos but “Warcraft” is pretty much a stick in the mud throughout. The one humorous moment—indeed, the single bit of actual entertainment to be had—comes when Garona notices that Khadgar is gawking at her and a.) tells him that she knows that he is thinking about having sex with her and b.)telling him that it will almost certainly not be good for him unless he has a fetish for broken bones.
Because it comes from a director who made two small but ambitious films before being handed to keys to a jumbo-sized film presumably meant to launch a series of films (and this is one of those movies that is more concerned with laying the ground for future tales than in properly wrapping up the one people have paid to see), it is likely that some observers may compare what Duncan Jones has done (or not done) here to what happened when David Lynch, in the wake of “Eraserhead” and “The Elephant Man”—he got into a situation way over his head and made a mess out of a sure-fire hit. That comparison doesn’t really hold up because “Dune,” for all of its numerous flaws, still managed to contain a number of moments of sheer visual poetry and enough quirky details to let people know that it was, however compromised it might have been, a David Lynch film. That is not the case here because none of the elements that made “Moon” and “Source Code” so entertaining are on display here. In fact, the film is so anonymous and free of any traces of actual human fingerprints that you get the sense that it was actually directed by a computer—a buggy one at that. I remain convinced that Jones is a talented filmmaker—if you haven’t seen “Moon” or “Source Code” yet, I implore you to do so now—but this film does him absolutely no favors as it feels as if the whole enterprise got away from him right from the start and he was never able to get control of it. Hopefully his next project will be one where he has more control over what is going on than he clearly did here—after all, David Lynch followed up “Dune” with a little thing called “Blue Velvet.”“Warcraft” is a film that is clearly epic in size and scope but shockingly puny in terms of imagination. There is not a single moment where you find yourself transported by the fantasy because you are too busy trying desperately to figure out who is who and why they are all massing at any given moment. For those who have never played the game before, it is a total washout but even those who are intimately familiar with it are likely to come away from it feeling equal parts annoyance and confusion. At one point in the film, a character—I have no idea who the hell it is—remarks “In my entire life, I have never felt so much pain as I do now.” Trust me, anyone who actually sits through this disaster to the bitter end will be feeling the same way,
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