Friday, June 10, 2016

A Reel Review: WARCRAFT

A movie set in the fantasy genre can be a lot like a gift-wrapped box. On the outside, there is the shiny wrapping paper, which in this case is the fantasy world, populated by men, Orcs, wizards, magic, and winged beasts. Under the paper is the box; the real substance of the gift, or the actual storytelling. WARCRAFT is deeply set in the fantasy world with all of the shiny creatures and battles, but under that, is what really matters.

The thuggish Orcs, led by Gul’dan (voiced by Daniel Wu), and his chieftain Durotan (voiced by Toby Kebbell), invade the world of the men, known as Azeroth, through a portal which draws its power from the lives of their captives. Opposing them are the King of Stormwind (Dominic Cooper), and his military commander, Sir Lothar (Travis Fimmel), along with a young magic-wielding mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), and the mysterious Guardian (Ben Foster).

Based on the long-running series of video games, WARCRAFT sets itself up as a standard good vs. evil fantasy flick, with the sword-and-magic humans battling against the axe-and-hammer green-skinned eight-foot tall Orcs. Things get unnecessarily complicated when the well-intentioned Durotan decides to lead a revolt against his leader, which leads to scene after scene of Orcs punching each other. The humans have problems of their own involving the Guardian being up to something and the many kingdoms divided (the Elves and Dwarves want no parts of the pending war). It’s not the worst idea in the world, and was obviously done to beef up the script and the action, but seems to overcomplicate things.

But where WARCRAFT has the most chinks in the armor is in the telling of the story. The film is shockingly boring. There is no sense of urgency, energy, or momentum as the plot slogs around from location to location with no zip and certainly no sense of whimsy or fun; requirements for a fantasy flick peppered with swords and magic. Dialogue is dull with no wit or cleverness, there is very little humor to be found, and the overall experience is simply joyless. Worse, with so many characters coming and going on both sides, the film does not make any of them the main character, which means the story has no moral center…or anyone to root for or care about.

Director Duncan Jones films some startling visuals here and there, and the CGI is stunning in some places but cartoonish in others. Long-time fans of the WARCRAFT game will be thrilled at the many, many, many, references to some kingdom or some character which are never seen, but general audiences will never catch a single one. The many battle scenes are coherent and easy to follow, but lack any sense of real danger or enjoyment. Costumes, weapons, and the designs of the kingdoms and the many creatures are excellent.

The goddamn 3D is worthless.

Acting is as bland as the rest of the film. Dominic Cooper is horribly miscast as the King; displaying no feeling of a wizened ruler or a fierce warrior. Ben Foster barely moves a single facial muscle, and the lovely Paula Patton, who appears as a half-human, half-orc, seems to struggle through her heavy makeup. The only real standout is Travis Fimmel, who feels right at home with his warrior-beard and big-ass sword.

WARCRAFT opens with a breathtaking prologue, which ultimately becomes meaningless as it has no bearing on the end of the film (the third act by the way, has characters doing stupid things only because the plot required them to), and the story doesn’t end as much as stop dead and leave many threads dangling for an obvious sequel. It’s a frustrating wrap to a frustrating film, which looks amazing as shiny wrapping paper but has nothing in the box. It is dull and boring, uninspired and devoid of any sense of adventure or fun. WARCRAFT? More like SNORECRAFT.


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