Sunday, October 2, 2016

Warcraft


   I should start by saying I'm not a fan of the games. I realize this movie had clicked with a fair number of people who've never played the games, but I'm not one of them. The movie starts off with an army of Orcs leaving their world to come to another, better world. In this new world, Azeroth, we're taken to scenes unfolding in various cities or kingdoms all with their names conveniently (and pointlessly) on the screen to let us know where we are. Why are some scenes taking place in Stormwind and others in Ironforge or Karazhan? (names I actually had to look up) Seconds later, we're in another new city, with another name that I won't remember in five minutes.

   The actors do their best, and the characters are fine, but this movie skips all the world building that made movies like Lord of the Rings a success. When we opened on The Shire, did the movie have to tell you it was "The Shire"? No, the context of the movie revealed the names and personalities of the cities and kingdoms in the movie. Warcraft has characters spitting out names of places with conviction and urgency, but where are these places? We don't know. Why are they relevant? I dunno. I can follow the general story from scene to scene, but it feels bloated and overwritten. Rather than the first movie in a franchise, this feels like the third or fourth.

   I liked the story and motivation behind the main Orc characters, which are actually more relatable and interesting than the human characters. Everytime a human character opens his mouth, his dialog is peppered with references that I assume only a fan of the games would understand. To me? It's gibberish. The Kirin Tor? Tirisfal? I don't know what's going on with that. The context barely explains what's going on. Heavy handed and direct exposition becomes all too necessary to a newcomer like me, less interested in the world around these characters and who just wants to know what's going on and where. I understand who the villains are, and who the good guys are, but I don't really care because the movie moves at a breakneck pace.

   Toby Kebbell plays Durotan, a well-meaning and kindhearted Orc who by all means should be the absolute main character of the movie, but he's really not. As soon as possible, he's sidelined as a supporting character in favor of characters who aren't walking CGI monstrosities. The only other characters of note I could pick out of this messy movie were Ben Foster as a weird wizard dude, and Paula Patton as Garona, an orc/human halfbreed who's acting is commendable and her looks aren't all that unlike an Orion slave girl from Star Trek. I approve. Between Kebbel, Patton and Foster, there's at least a few characters with distinct personalities that I didn't mind watching. But the movie is at it's best in it's more human moments with real emotions on display, the action scenes are largely trite and nothing that we haven't really seen from similar fare, most probably from Peter Jackson.

   I'll give credit where it's due though, the production design, costuming, special effects and visuals are all top shelf. If only it's storytelling were on par with these superior elements, Warcraft would be a winner. If it wasn't for the effects, the visuals and the quality of the production, the movie would feel like a SyFy movie of the week. There are glimpses of a proper epic scope, and moments where the movie works even when it has no right to- but this is thanks in no small part to the actors, trying their damndest. I respect that the movie has a sense of humor, and a sweeping sense of adventure, but mostly these things are fleeting and hit or miss.

   A lot of people have criticized the movie for requiring a previous knowledge of the games and it's world to understand what's going on in the movie. This isn't entirely accurate. The movie is simplistic in it's good vs. evil story, the but the trappings of this world, and the motivations of certain characters fall flat at best, and are otherwise obscured or simply nonsensical. The movie relentlessly hurls long-winded fictional words at the audience which just builds up this barrier of half-baked information that ends up being rather impenetrable to the uninitiated. I had difficulty following, not because the movie is confusing, but because it failed to generate any authentic reaction from me. It didn't hold my interest, and there's maybe 10 main characters competing for screentime? Not one is ever singled out as the absolute main protagonist.

   Warcraft simply didn't work for me. It was trying to do too much. It's story, plot and characters should've been streamlined. If anything, the game made me wanna go dig into Skyrim or Lord of the Rings again. I was left wanting better storytelling, but no desire to return to this world, or seek out the games. I love the work of director Duncan Jones, but this was definitely a misstep for him. If the movie appeals to fans of the game, I'm happy for them. It definitely isn't for me. I was disinterested with the movie when it started, but a part of me wanted to like it throughout. In the end I merely found myself tolerating it, and frequently looking at the time. Fantastic visuals and epic battle scenes do not a good movie make. Warcraft needed better storytelling behind it's spectacle, it's as simple as that.

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