Synopsis – The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.
My Take – Can movies based on video games ever be good? Based on the kind of outrageous films we have been releasing for the past 20 years or so, the answer is quite obvious. Making a movie based on a video game is a pretty bold move, because a lot can go wrong. A game’s success can trigger movie makers to create half-assed products, that only serve cash grabbing and on the other side games tend to lack enough substance to make good movies. But for a game as massive as the World of Warcraft, which at its peak had about 12 million players, so a big screen version (first announced ten years ago) must have seemed like a no-brainer. Even though the numbers have dwindled considerably since then however (to the point where game-makers Blizzard no longer release the figures) the filmmakers are clearly hoping to tap into the same fantasy fan base that flock to the likes of Avatar and the Lord of the Rings movies. The fact the film cannot ignore the amount of factors it has to deal with – the low hype, presence of excess of CGI, with a not-that-famous cast and the terrible rep which all video game movies have to contend with – as a result even before anyone had seen the film, it is arrives with certain expectations that it wouldn’t be great. So after reading the terrible reviews, and not being a big fan of the World of Warcraft games, I went into this movie with very low expectations. Luckily, as someone who only tried the game twice or thrice, I surprisingly enjoyed this rather clunky yet strangely enjoyable film. Having seen it now, I’m glad that this movie proved me wrong! Proving that a video game adaption given to the right director and writers can become quite a quality product. First of all the movie absolutely achieved to immerse me in it’s fantasy world. The film isn’t without flaws, it has many Characters, and not enough time, I would’ve loved to see more of each one of them, some characters shine more than other, but they are nonetheless all beautifully written, the story is character driven, initially I thought it’d be generic, but that wasn’t the case, many twists and turns happen throughout the film, although some can be predicted, they keep you on the edge of your seat wanting to know more. Director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has said repeatedly in interviews that he has a fan of World of Warcraft and that this is a love letter to the game, and while I’m no fan of the games, I can definitely see the pure passion. This movie also quenches the thirst of many fantasy fans as other than excellent Tolkien adaptations, its been a while we have seen a true high fantasy epics of such scale and scope (No I am not going to add The Huntman movies). Set in the quasi-medieval landscape of Azeroth, the film follows an unfolding conflict between orcs and humans. The trouble begins when a band of orcs, led by a powerful, hooded warlock named Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), use a magic portal to flee from their dying world and enter Azeroth.
Gul’dan requires mortal souls to power his dark magic, called the Fell, which acts as fuel for the portal between the two realms, and dozens of humans are being captured so the way can be opened for an entire swarm of orcs to invade the land. Over in the Kingdom of Stormwind, King Llane (Dominic Cooper) learns that his garrisons are falling one by one to a new enemy, and dispatches Commander Lothar (Travis Fimmel), a young magician, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and a powerful Guardian, Medivh (Ben Foster) to investigate. On the orcs’ side, the mighty chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbel) begins to suspect that Gul’dan’s magic may have been to blame for destroying their home world in the first place, while half orc, half human Garona (Paula Patton) defects to the side of the humans who are forming an army to bring down the portal. Scripted by Jones himself and Charles Leavitt, the film gets off to a rocky start with a multitude of main characters to introduce, none of whom make all that good a first impression, but manage to grow on us as the film progresses. Unlike most fantasy movies, the film offers something different in plot: there is no good side or bad side, they are just people who need to survive, but evil always finds its way to corrupt them. I think it’s a fresh idea to start with. It’s a pretty straightforward narrative that it doesn’t wastes its time introducing much of its world. You gotta accept whatever you see; whether it’s warlocks or orcs or whatever, the movie just embraces its world and trusts the audience to follow through. It kind of makes sense why those who were familiar with the game are appreciating this film more than standard film critics, but again, I was never a big fan of the original game, yet I was immediately invested to this fantasy world (and I like fantasy stuff.) In creating a conflict where there are heroes and possible villains on both sides, But once the great chunks of back story and world-building are in place, the film begins to find its stride. The film picks up considerably around a third of the way in, with a striking sequence that lends the film some much-needed emotional depth, while the fact that it gives equal weight to the Orc side of the battle adds an intriguing element that pays off nicely. Twinkle-eyed novice magician Khadgar has the most entertaining plot thread, where he tries to figure out exactly how the orcs have managed to tear open a door into Azeroth. The even-handed depiction of a war between two vastly different societies recalls Matt Reeves’ outstanding Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, though the quality of the CGI and motion capture isn’t quite as consistently believable as it was in that film. Durotan the noble chieftain – this film’s Caesar analogue, you could say – is rendered with real weight, yet his heavily pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Galvin) looks somewhat stiff in her expressions and movements.
An opening shot of a human and orc battling in a desert setting has a photo-real quality, approaching something from a spaghetti western; conversely, one or two aerial shots of castles and cities look closer to cut-scenes from a video game. The colorful world in which the movie takes place defies the grim-dark trend in recent years, where even Superman movies have to be sad and dark and rainy, and that alone makes the film a refreshing joy to watch. The film marks Jones’ first outing as a director of effects-heavy battle scenes, and it’s arguable that the set-pieces improve as the film goes on. The quality of the fight scenes improves enormously as the film continues, almost as if Jones and his technical wizards were learning how all the CGI machines worked as they went along. Viewed in 3D, early fight sequences judder by in an ugly blur, yet later ones are better orchestrated and shot with a steadier hand. With blasts of magic picked out in dazzling flashes of blue and acid green, Jones captures the vibrancy of the Blizzard games. The only place which I think the film mainly falters is when it dives into too much fan service, the result – some of the plot points and humor falls flat. With so much to offer in a run time of 123 minutes seem a bit jam packed. Yeah, some moments feel a little too rushed, I don’t want to use the term contrived since the film does earn some of those moments, allowing itself to establish the arcs of these characters, but it’s paced a little too quick that it doesn’t spend much time to breathe for a little more gravity on its story choices. Like I said this is a big story sustained in a two hour run time, so it’s a tough choice. Among the performances, particularly Paula Patton is excellent, she perfectly captures Garona’s torn loyalties and emerges as the film’s most interesting character. She offers an excellent balance between frailty and a brave front for survival. Travis Fimmel as Lothar does his best, and to be fair, he exhibits an enigmatic role as Ragnar from Vikings series. Dominic Cooper’s King seems distinctly unsuited to the task at hand, perhaps because Cooper has played too many shallow cad-types in the past. Ben Foster is enjoyably hammy as a powerful mage. Toby Kebbell in his dual role as the orc Durotan and human Antonidas was really good. Ruth Negga, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky and Daniel Wu play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Warcraft: The Beginning’ largely achieves what it sets out to do by being a very entertaining film and breaking the stigma attached to video game-to-movie adaptations. It has its flaws, yet a lot more to admire. Well done Duncan Jones!
Directed – Duncan Jones
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 123 minutes