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Movie Review: Warcraft is messy but also rewards its fans

Movie Review: Warcraft is messy but also rewards its fans

Director: Duncan Jones
Writers: Charles Leavitt (screenplay), Duncan Jones (screenplay)
Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell

Synopsis: As an Orc horde invades the planet Azeroth using a magic portal, a few human heroes and dissenting Orcs must attempt to stop the true evil behind this war.

In a world full of superheroes films and Star Wars, which pander to fans while building a world simultaneously, Warcraft ambitiously deviates from that model thinking of the fans first and foremost. If you are not familiar with the Warcraft property, there’s a good chance you will be completely lost with this film. There is no exposition and the film tosses the audience right into the thick of the Warcraft world as transitions happen almost immediately.

The film opens with a shot of the Orcs world dying, leaving them desperate to find a new home. After their leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) finds a portal to a new world, Azeroth, the Orcs prepare for war and transition to this new world. Soon after, the humans of Azeroth find out the hard way what the Orcs are capable of and it leads to some major conflict and a fight for survival. It didn’t take long for Durotan (Toby Kebbell), chieftain of the Frostwolf clan, to realize that Gul’dan was a problem and that something needed to be done if both the Orcs and humans were going to both survive.

To outsiders, Warcraft does very little to engage you within the first ten minutes. However, fans of the property will recognize immediately what is happening and it’s obvious that is who Duncan Jones has in mind. Warcraft is a film designed to 100% speak to audiences who love Warcraft, know this world really well and will instantly engage with these characters. It is clear that Jones understands the Warcraft mythos and he evocatively builds a world that leave fans in awe. It may be a naive approach to disregard the general audience but Jones’ ambition and willing to embrace his approach will reward fans of the property. However, Jones and screenwriter Charles Leaviatt are not completely blind to Warcraft outsiders. Jones and Leaviatt smartly center the story of Warcraft around family and the idea of fighting for family. So, as an outsider of the property, you may not understand exactly what is happening but everyone will sympathize with the idea of family. The execution of that idea may be messy but it is moving enough to satisfy both fans and outsiders of the property alike.

The major reason that pathos is felt is because of Toby Kebbell, who gives a riveting motion-capture performance. If you’re Andy Serkis, you better keep an eye out because Kebbell is not far behind you when it comes to motion-capture performances. Between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now Warcraft, Kebbell has supplanted himself as one of the best working today when it comes to mo-cap acting and utilizing the technology. It’s pretty incredible what Kebbell brings to Durotan and how he depicts familial identity and parental sacrifice in this film. Those notions are viscerally felt and is easily the best thing about Warcraft. Daniel Wu and Robert Kazinsky also give engaging mo-cap performances.

On the flip side, the human characters of Warcraft are rather dull and disappointing. Paula Patton and Ben Foster in particular are really bad, which is disappointing since both actors are capable of being great. None of the “human” character performances are great but the rest are serviceable. Travis Fimmel is the best of the them and somewhat of a highlight here. The human characters suffer more from a script perspective, rather than an acting one.

Overall, Warcraft won’t break the “video game movie curse” that has plagued the genre since its inception but it does introduce a world and characters that will resonate with fans. And this fight for survival, that is rooted in familial identity and the sacrifices we make for our families, is enough to engage anyone interested in the film, regardless of your experience with the property. Ramin Djawadi’s score is also worth noting and a major reason for the film’s emotion being felt. Warcraft is certainly scatterbrained and the film’s priorities are arguably in the wrong place at times but you can’t deny the meticulous craftsmanship that Jones displays. I’ve never played Warcraft but if I had, this would have been a more fun experience. As it is, despite its flaws, it still did enough and fans will surly have a great time.

Overall Grade: B-

Hear our full review on Episode 173:

InSession Film founder and owner. I love film. Love art. Love how it intersects with our real lives. My favorite movies include Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Modern Times, The Godfather and The Tree of Life. Follow me on Twitter @RealJDDuran. Follow us @InSessionFilm.

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