|'When CGI fills the screen Warcraft's worlds feel cold and hollow; when matters are focused upon live action, the costumes and settings have a cheapness the director simply cannot shake'.|
In an era of summer blockbusters dominated by comic book universe-building, it is a dubious honour for video game adaptation Warcraft: The Beginning to offer the most textbook example of all that mainstream franchise-based cinema is currently getting wrong. Translations from computer screen to big screen have a considerably chequered past that has been well chronicled, and Duncan Jones' attempt to make the Warcraft series the latest pretender to the Lord Of The Rings crown unfortunately does little to change that.
Taken on its own merits as an action-fantasy film, Warcraft has enough problems rooted in its filmmaking fundamentals to push any considerations about how well the video game world has been recreated firmly to the back of the queue. From the outset, Jones never manages to lift the settings out of their obvious artificiality. When CGI fills the screen Warcraft's worlds feel cold and hollow; when matters are focused upon live action, the costumes and settings have a cheapness the director simply cannot shake.
Confusing execution elsewhere doesn't help matters either. Jones' handling of the different languages within the story is bewildering, at times having the orcs switch between their native tongue and English mid-sentence, apparently for the audience's benefit but in actual fact making matters far more complicated and jarring than they need to be. In fact, no matter where you look, there's nothing on offer to show Jones' previous filmmaking nous evidenced in both Moon and, to a lesser extent, Source Code. It's regularly hard to believe that Warcraft comes from the same director.
The script, co-written by Jones and Charles Leavitt, follows suit. The main plot concerning "the fel" - a dark magic used by orc warlock Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) to move the orcs from one world to another - is hazily realised, whilst the subplots surrounding this central story are consistently threadbare. The relationship between Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and his son Cammel (Burkely Duffield) is afforded just a handful of scenes before its tragic conclusion inevitably delivers almost no impact. The romance between Anduin and half-orc Garona (Paula Patton) is similarly thin, whilst also evidencing just how boringly unadventurous Jones keeps matters - the two don't even kiss.
The battle scenes, whilst far from accomplished, are somewhat enjoyable, and there are also scattered moments of humour here which do work. These relative successes, however, are undercut by the increasingly obvious shift away from a satisfying conclusion to the flawed story told here, and towards establishing Warcraft as the initial entry into what Universal clearly hope will become a long-running franchise. It's a modus operandi for which both Marvel and DC have been criticised in the past, but one that has perhaps never been more blatant and distracting than during Warcraft's final act.
Warcraft: The Beginning was released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 10th October.