Monday, September 19, 2016

Warcraft: The Beginning Is Complicated Enough To Justify Sequels And Attention!

The Good: Moments of performance, Most of the effects, Detailed sense of setting and character motivations
The Bad: Expository characterizations, Some underwhelming characters and plot events, Short for something so detailed
The Basics: Warcraft: The Beginning has a wonderful, classic, sense of fantasy adventure intended for an audience that can handle an onslaught of plot threads and characters!

Despite my recent obsession with Star Wars: Battlefront, I am not a gamer. There are many types of geeks and I have not, for the bulk of my life, explored the video game geek branch of nerdom. As such, I had absolutely no knowledge of Warcraft or World Of Warcraft outside a passing understanding that the latter was a Massive Multiplayer Online Game phenomenon about a decade ago. So, I sat down to the film Warcraft: The Beginning completely unencumbered by what it should be, ready to watch and accept it as it is.

Warcraft: The Beginning drew me in with a remarkably effective preview trailer several months ago. I was impressed from the trailer with the quality of the special effects and when my wife and I learned that Duncan Jones, son of her idol David Bowie, was making his directorial debut with the film, it seemed like it was worthwhile to check the film out. Warcraft: The Beginning marks the first time in a long time that I recall seeing a film and wishing there were more of it. Warcraft: The Beginning is an instantly dense movie creating a surprisingly populous world with a wide variety of characters and creature types. The two hour film feels like watching an entire season of Game Of Thrones . . . but with actual magic and a wider variety of creatures. Almost from the outset, Warcraft: The Beginning feels like a classic sword and sorcery fantasy film and it has been so long since such a film was made as a blockbuster film (objectively viewed, The Lord Of The Rings featured Gandalf doing incredibly little in the way of sorcery, for example!) that despite its density, Warcraft: The Beginning feels surprisingly fresh.

The Orc world is dying, after generations of war with the humans, when Durotan has to leave his very pregnant wife Draka to join an immense war band of Orcs to pass through a portal and lay waste to another realm. Draka follows Durotan and goes into labor on the other side of the portal. The human Commander Anduin Lothar is recalled from the Dwarven city of Ironforge after the invasion. Lothar finds a mage who declares that fel magic (magic which uses life force) is in play and the humans prepare themselves for a siege. Lothar's journey takes him with the mage to the primary library of the magic users where they find Medivh, guardian of the realm's magic. Durotan is dismayed immediately when the war effort has the Orcs capturing civilian women and children instead of outright fighting warriors. When an Orc raiding party ambushes the human group containing Medivh and Khadgar (who renounced his mage oaths), Medivh uses fel magic against the orcs and the humans capture Garona.

As Durotan contemplates the new world in which the Orcs find themselves, he has the epiphany that when the Orc priest Gul'dan started using fel magic, that was when the Orc world started to degrade. Durotan believes that the new realm might be a great new home for the Orcs, but to keep it green and worth fighting for, Gul'dan should be deposed. Durotan approaches Khadgar and Garona to request a peaceful meeting. King Llane Wrynn listens to Garona and, on the advice of his queen, is willing to make peace with the Orcs. The King meets with Durotan, with Garona translating, where the Orc Chieftain tries to make peace with the humans for the sake of his people. But Green Orcs attack Durotan's Orcs, poisoning the King's trust. When the King's son is killed in battle, peace with the Orcs seems impossible

Warcraft: The Beginning effectively establishes a magical world, even if it never rises to the distinctiveness of Peter Jackson's cinematic rendition of Middle Earth. As the name suggests, Warcraft: The Beginning is a film rooted in conflict and the warmongering Orc priest seems to have somewhat generically targeted humans, though the motivation does seem to be his need for human prisoners for his fel magic. Part of the issue with Warcraft: The Beginning is that in creating such a well-rounded sense of place, time, and mysticism, most of the characters are very simply presented - and mostly through very straightforward exposition through character dialogue. By the time Elves first appear in Warcraft: The Beginning the realm is so well defined that they seem just like gratuitous windowdressing.

Ben Foster is an excellent choice for Medivh. Medivh is supposed to be a powerful mage and that requires an actor with intensity. If one is not casting for intensity based on age and experience - like Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart or David Warner - Foster is pretty much ideal casting. Indeed, seeing Foster as Medivh reminds the viewer of the breakout qualities he possessed on Six Feet Under (season three is reviewed here!) that made him a scene stealer. Foster prevents Medivh from ever appearing even remotely ridiculous and director Duncan Jones smartly never lets the special effects cover Foster's performance.

In a similar way, Paula Patton is an excellent choice for Garona. Jones clearly learned a thing or two from Michael Westmore's treatment of women in the Star Trek franchise; Westmore famously noted that it is pointless to cast a Hollywood beautiful woman and then obscure that beauty with prosthetics. Patton's Garona is a mixed-race Orc/human hybrid and that allows Jones to use more of Patton's natural beauty in embodying Garona. The scene with Patton and Foster together reflecting on their natures is arguably the heart of the character study within Warcraft: The Beginning.

Most of Warcraft: The Beginning is political, thematic and plot-based as opposed to character driven. While all of the various characters have their own motivations, they are presented to explain the various plot threads, as opposed to get the viewers to care about the characters. While there is a fairly major human death early on in Warcraft: The Beginning, the most empathetic moments of the film come in Durotan desperately seeking peace for his Orc clan.

The special effects in Warcraft: The Beginning are amazing, but they are far from perfect. While the Orcs are incredibly rendered and detailed and the costumes are impressive, not all of the effects are consistently rendered. Early on in Warcraft: The Beginning there is a wolf that is noticeably subpar in both its movements and the way its proportions continue to change. For the most part, though, Warcraft: The Beginning looks good.

Despite all of the various motivations and schemes, Warcraft: The Beginning basically boils down to an Orc invasion that presages a much bigger Orc invasion if the villainous Gul'dan has his way. The movie feels like a beginning and Warcraft: The Beginning is complex enough to make the viewer wish for more, even if it is only an average start.

For other films based upon video game sources, please check out my reviews of:
Silent Hill
Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time
Max Payne


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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