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Warcraft' what is it good for?

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Video game adaptation offers interesting visuals, messy narrative

Video game adaptations have long been among the toughest nuts for Hollywood to crack. Despite the fact that video games have become one of the most massive entertainment industries in the world, with beloved franchises inspiring millions of people to spend billions of dollars, the transition from small screen to large has rarely been a successful one.

The latest attempt to make the leap is 'Warcraft,' based on the popular game by Blizzard Entertainment. It's an effort to create an engaging and cinematic narrative from the vast and varied universe of the game an effort that ultimately proves to be woefully unsuccessful.

Lothar (Travis Fimmel, TV's 'Vikings') leads the armies of the land of Azeroth. His sister Taria (Ruth Negga, 'Iona') is the queen, wed to King Llane (Dominic Cooper, TV's 'Preacher'). Llane's reign has been a largely peaceful one thanks to both Lothar and the magical Guardian of Azeroth, a mage named Medivh (Ben Foster, 'The Finest Hours').

However, all that is about to change.

In the land of Draenor, an evil orc leader named Gul'Dan (Daniel Wu, TV's 'Into the Badlands') has found a way to manipulate dark magic known as the fel to open portals between worlds. Gul'Dan has assembled a warband of orcs to travel through such a portal and claim the world on the other side for the orcs.

Orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell, 'Fantastic Four') is part of the invading force, but he soon develops misgivings with regards to the morality of the orcish invasion of Azeroth. Still, he fights alongside his brethren. Despite the superior size and strength of the orc horde, the human armies led by Lothar with plenty of magical help from Medivh and the rogue mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer, 'Goat') and some insight granted by the captive orc half-breed Garona (Paula Patton, 'The Do-Over') offer real resistance.

Any efforts at alliances or peaceful resolution are met by blood and betrayal. It is impossible for anyone to know anyone else's true motivations. Double-crossers are double-crossed in turn; there's no room for trust (or if we're honest coherent plot) in war-ravaged Azeroth.

Admittedly, this is a token effort at plot synopsis. However, the reality is that trying to summarize this story is an exercise in futility. See, there's not really much in the way of narrative coherence here instead, what we get is a series of loosely connected plot points awash in (admittedly impressive) CGI effects. In essence, the entire film seems designed to lay the framework for multiple sequels. It's preemptive franchise building; considering the combination of a decent domestic box office take and record-breaking numbers in China, we can likely expect plenty more installments.

It's unfortunate that this is director Duncan Jones's first foray into the franchise blockbuster realm. 'Warcraft' is only his third feature, but the first two were the exceptional 'Moon' and the underrated 'Source Code.' He's got real talent, so it seems odd that he would saddle himself with a project so weighted down by its own convoluted mythology. Jones who also co-wrote the screenplay shows flashes of the visual flair that marks his other work, but the look of the movie, while aesthetically strong, simply isn't enough to elevate the film past the expository placeholding of the narrative.

In terms of performance, 'Warcraft' offers up your standard swords-and-sorcery quality. Fimmel is fine as the hilariously-named Lothar (remember Mike Myers as Lothar of the Hill People on 'SNL'?). Cooper spends most of his time looking vaguely confused. Patton is surprisingly effective despite the green body paint and dental prosthetics, while Foster is all beard, flowing robes and regret about his career choices. The motion capture performances are actually a bit better Kebbell in particular deserves to be in the same conversation as mo-cap stalwarts like Andy Serkis but it's hardly enough.

I'll freely admit that I'm not an ideal audience member for this movie I've never played 'World of Warcraft' and don't anticipate ever doing so. However, bringing in (and then bringing back) people like me, with no direct experience with the video game, is key to the kind of success you want from a franchise.

'Warcraft' is just one more in a long line of less-than-stellar video game movies. However, quality of storytelling aside, this one has already proven to be one of the genres most successful. It isn't much fun and it doesn't make a lot of sense, but it will make box office bank and really, that's the bottom line.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 13:14

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