Skepticism has been whirling around Warcraft since the first trailer dropped for the epic fantasy adaptation of the online role-playing game, directed by Duncan Jones. Orcs… with feelings? And pierced tusks? Critics have been gleefully sharpening their knives in anticipation of this franchise-launching hopeful.
This may come as a surprise, but Warcraft isn’t all that bad.
It’s all in the expectations, and the lower yours are, the more fun you might have. Warcraft isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a bold, unapologetic fantasy. There are times when it feels like you are watching an ’80s heavy metal album cover in cinematic form, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s an audacity in how it drops the audience into this fantasy land of orcs, wizards and mages with little explanation. The film is preposterous, yet manages to be transporting.
The problems the humans face in the world of Warcraft are all too familiar. They’re dealing with an immigration problem, as hordes of pony-tailed orcs pour through a magical portal, their sights set on conquering this new realm with brute force and black magic. There’s dissent among the orc ranks, though, as Durotan (Toby Kebbell) strives for peaceful co-existence, and the evil Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) seeks apocalyptic domination.
In the mix are knight Lothar (Travis Fimmel), King Wrynne (Dominic Cooper) and captured orc-human woman Garona (Paula Patton in bad green makeup), who are relying on the powerful wizard Medivh (Ben Foster) to save the kingdom. When Medivh’s powers are compromised, enterprising magical upstart Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) jumps in. Patton’s saddled with a terrible costume, and Cooper is ridiculous, but it’s hard to not enjoy Foster and Schnetzer going all-out with the over-the-top wizarding theatrics.
Much of Warcraft’s marketing has centered on its technology and effects, and the director does manage to land some emotional moments in the relationship of Durotan and wife Draka (Anna Galvin), who fear the dissolution of their family in the conflict between the orcs. If only more of that had been directed to the interpersonal stories between the humans, which are slapdash or one-note.
Jones has made a film that looks and feels like a role-playing game, using high-angle shots to drop into and pull out of this world via an aerial map. That might feel jarring or less than cinematic to some, but it’s a daring way to visually imagine how a game and film of this type might find a unifying aesthetic.
Proceed with caution to Warcraft, but there is entertainment to be found. It’s certainly more absorbing than the lazily assembled Alice Through the Looking Glass, because the director’s exertion and drive behind the film are palpable, if a bit sweaty. If you’re open to insane, sometimes inane, but uncompromising fantasy, you just might enjoy yourself.
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence. 2:03. 2D only: Winchester. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.