Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
If you're a fan of the "World of Warcraft" massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), then you might love Warcraft (opening Friday), the franchise's first foray onto the big-screen. If you are not a fan or have never played, then you might find yourself searching for an inter-dimensional portal that will allow you to transport yourself far from the movie theater.
Full disclosure: As a huge fan of role-playing games (including Dungeons & Dragons), video games and the fantasy genre in general, I have never once played a Warcraft game. Its meteoric rise to the top of the online-gaming world came in 2004, a few years after my (arguable) nerdish gaming prime had come to a close. What I do know about Warcraft, the game, is that it is incredibly immersive and addicting as it allows you to exist in a massive online world where your character(s) can interact with millions of others in a virtual realm full of dragons, monsters, swords and invading orcs. The movie version, by its very nature, is void of this interactive synergy, because the audience is merely an on-looker, despite it's efforts to put us in the middle of its far-fetched chaos.
The result is a film that feels like a less-than amalgam of every fantasy and comic book movie we've seen over the past 15 years. It is as sprawling as The Lord of the Rings but not nearly as epic or fleshed-out. It is as loud and colorful as any Marvel movie but possesses none of the same charm. Sadly, Warcraft is only a smidge better than the disastrous film version of Dungeons & Dragons (2000), one of the most awfully concocted fantasy movies of all-time. And in the era of Game of Thrones, we simply expect more from our fantasy sagas than ever before.
The convoluted plot has us warming up to a level-headed Orc warrior named Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and his pregnant wife Draka (Anna Galvin). They are part of an orc army led by the powerful, mystical Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), who has the ability to suck the life force out of any living creature. Having decimated his current dimension, Gul'dan opens a portal and invades the lush green world of Azeroth, a realm of peace. Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) must try to stop the hordes of intruders, so he enlists the help of an all- powerful mage known as The Guardian (Ben Foster), and a rag-tag mage-in-training, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). With the help of an orc runt named Garona (Paula Patton), they band together to try to repel the invading forces from their ancestral lands. All the while from the inside, Durotan grows weary of his leader and looks out for the best interests of his family.
I was eagerly awaiting the next film from director Duncan Jones, who put out a rare and unexpected sci-fi gem with his 2011 film Source Code. But while he impressively wastes what looks like hundreds of millions of dollars in special-effects, there is no substance whatsoever in Warcraft. The plot has holes large enough to fit Gul'dan's entire army, and the main characters are tired fantasy cliches (the apprentice, the warrior, yawn). It's also disappointing to watch Travis Fimmel - so compelling as Ragnar Lothbrook on the History Channel's Vikings TV series - basically reprising his role, minus any characterization. He seems like a gifted actor, and it's clear why they chose him for this role, but is Fimmel destined to play blood-thirsty barbarians forever?
Warcraft is a massive clusterf-orc of epic proportions, a movie that feels familiar because we've seen it before several times, only done better. But this is no one-and-done: You can expect several more installments to come, and like a Marvel movie, it made sure to cue things up for the next one. But for Warcraft to be a winning franchise, it will need to focus less on the dimensions of Azeroth, and more on the missing dimensions of its thin characters.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu, Anna Galvin
Co-Written & Directed by Duncan Jones (Source Code, Moon)
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