Warcraft (2016)

Warcraft (2016). Director: Duncan Jones Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebell.
Director: Duncan Jones
Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebell.

Feature films based on video games are usually terribly plotted, and Warcraft is no exception in that regard. It’s a bit of a mess to attempt to follow, and filled with paper-thin characterizations. But unlike many films falling into this category, Warcraft is bolstered with a considerable degree of storytelling ambition. Director/Co-screenwriter Duncan Jones does his best to create a highly textured fantasy milieu, implying a rich history for the kingdom of Azeroth. This world-building will probably energize many pre-existing fans of the Warcraft video game series, but it won’t be enough to draw in the general audience.

Warcraft lives or dies on its hyper-real aesthetic. Like 300, or Avatar, or Sucker Punch, the stylized but highly detailed setting is meant to draw the viewer into a completely made up world that bears little to no resemblance to any real location. With Warcraft, the film replicates the virtual world of the game. Everyone and everything is bathed in an evenly applied luminous glow that flatters and smooths over surface features. It’s studio lighting taken outdoors. Every magical spell cast involves the release of colored glowing plasma, kind of like the energy outbursts usually associated with Green Lantern. As with the digitally rendered environments found in the aforementioned past movies, the live actors still look a little out-of-place in it. But advances in motion capture technology make the CGI denizens look pretty convincing, especially the weirdly proportioned orcs.

But there’s too much going on. There are a lot of characters being moved around onscreen, and the story suffers from it. The basic conflict revolves around a war between a human-led alliance and an invading orc horde. But muddling things are the type of magic being used by both sides, shifting allegiances, some inter-warrior rivalry, some family melodrama, some coming-of-age tales. Certain characters, particularly the women, hardly receive enough attention. The orc horde gets less screen time than the humans. And the cast playing humans consistently fail to to make any of their roles particularly compelling or sympathetic. Warcraft isn’t complex, it’s just cluttered.