The film version of Warcraft, directed by Duncan Jones, aims its adaptive eye more toward this original material. The story is basically as bone simple as it gets, the Orcs' world is a barren wasteland and they need a new home, that new home they're led to via a mystic portal is the aforementioned Azeroth, and from there chaos begins to reign. Sure, there's a few extra wrinkles, but that's the main conflict as it stands. Not bad as far as video game adaptations go, and really it's got a more convincing hook than the third Peter Jackson Hobbit film. The Orcs make for a convincing threat, there's nice imagery in the magic, and every character holds title such as The Guardian and "such and such leader" of this clan and general of this army. You can sense there's a history in these characters and surrounds them that's worth a 2 hour-long movie.
Strangely, Jones and his screenwriter, Charles Leavitt, have very little interest in digging into any of that and basically toss you into the deep end of this world, assuming you carry an encyclopedic knowledge of the lore on-hand, or you're just going to catch up. The latter mind-set is not a bad one, and generally I find myself pretty welcoming of eschewing exposition, which is often the bane of mainstream cinema. The issue is that the film never takes the time to breathe with its multitude of warriors with names that are barely worth remembering, because there's nary a character in the bunch. This is an effort that is so concerned with laying down the foundations of its conflict, it leaves much of its characterization at the door, stuck behind that big green portal. So what you're left with is: "a king that really loves his kingdom", "a warrior who really loves his son", "a sorcerer who seems to know way more than he should". These one-dimensional traits are especially bad among the humans that populate the film, and given that the movie outright lays down that the battle between these two factions continues far beyond the confines of Warcraft's running time, the sense of malaise that sets in anytime this crew of bearded white guys are on-screen becomes an exercise in attempting to stay awake for the next magic trick.
The Orcs fare a bit better, for one, Toby Kebbell's Durotan has an actual arc, and motivations that a viewer can get behind. He displays nuance that isn't given to his counterparts on the other side, and his conflict with the evil shaman Gul'Dan works, despite the fact that its rooted in this undefined McGuffin that drags down both the Human and Orc plots in vague "corrupted magic" stakes - sadly, "The Fel" resembles the same green snot that infected Kebbell's Doctor Doom in the equally misguided, yet not totally horrible Fantastic Four from last year. But anytime we get an opportunity to sit down with Durotan and his wife (or the Orc equivalent), Draka, focusing on the plight of their newborn child, the movie finally attains a beating heart that it so desperately needs. As a viewer, we have to connect with these characters in some way for their various sacrifices to mean anything, otherwise they just become cannon fodder and I wonder why I'm not just playing the video game instead. As usual, this is the ongoing problem with video game adaptations.
I can tell that Jones is awfully sincere about this franchise, and one can assume that the initiated will find much to enjoy. While the CGI veers a bit too cartoony, the battles are clearly shot with very little of the shaky cam that kills visual impact, and as already stated, the usage of magic is visually arresting. I was particularly a big fan anytime someone's eye lit up as they were casting a spell, despite that person usually being a not very good Ben Foster doing his best impression of a magician version of Jared Leto. Yet, the problems of the film compound themselves when subplot after subplot are employed on top of one another utilizing those characters that are already so poorly sketched out. When two "unlikely" protagonists make a love connection over tragedy, I didn't care. What that same tragedy struck, I didn't care. When there's a big revelation in the third act, I just threw my hands up in the air.
To be frank, I firmly believe there's a stronger, better defined version of this film on the cutting room floor. All the bones are in place for something that's fairly affecting and a fun adventure, but to get everything down to the two-hour running time, it's like you're watching this story being retold to you by someone who is really excited about it all, but doesn't take the time to give you any context: "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened". The fact that I had to go to IMDB just to figure out any character names gives you the gist of it. But it's difficult to get annoyed at a film that's clearly so earnest about the material it's presenting. In a way, it's likely the nerdiest film I've seen in years, on par with those Underworld movies that were tremendously guilty pleasures of mine when I was a college-aged lad.
Fan of the material or not, it's an effort that I can at least appreciate for its ambition if I don't particularly *like* it (compare to, say, the disaster that was X-Men: Apocalypse), the movie only verges on an absolute face-plant towards the end, with a conclusion that almost made me exclaim: "what the hell just happened?", but much like what precedes it, the details tend to fade from memory in what makes for a strikingly average fantasy flick. For its director's sake, this isn't Chappie. This is not a career-killing third feature and hopefully with this franchise obligation now shed, Jones can move on to more original work and give us that Moon follow-up he promised.
Oh, and Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton are not very good in this. Better leads probably would have helped.