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Warcraft: The Beginning review: over-stuffed spectacle

May 30, 2016

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Dominic Preston

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On one level, you’ve got to feel sorry for Duncan Jones and his fellow screenwriter Charles Leavitt. They were faced with the unenviable task of taking the sprawling Warcraft universe, the setting for multiple games including online phenomenon World of Warcraft, and distilling it into a single two-hour narrative. On the other hand, putting it like that only makes it all the more remarkable that with so much to draw from, they settled on such a rote, predictable, and dull plot to hang their action sequences on.

Our setting is Azeroth, a peaceful, quasi-medieval, unashamed Tolkien rip-off of a fantasy world. Peaceful, that it, until a warband of orcs pour through a magic portal, led by the suitably sinister warlock Gul’dan, intent on pillaging, murdering, and fighting their way through Azeroth until they can bring through the rest of the orc horde. Pitted against them are warrior Anduin (Travis Fimmel), sorcerers Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and Medivh (a near-catatonic Ben Foster) and King Llane (Dominic Cooper).

To its credit, Jones and Leavitt’s script does its best to stretch to represent both sides of the conflict, as orc warlord Durotan (a mo-capped Toby Kebbell) and half-orc-half-human Garona (Paula Patton) raise the possibility of peace between the two species. Unfortunately, the side-effect of this even-handedness is that the film is hopelessly overstuffed, boasting an abundance of main characters and not enough time to do any of them justice, giving the audience little reason to care even as the film begins to thin the ranks towards the finale.

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The effects are mostly very impressive, if occasionally slightly weightless, and Jones proves that he has a good eye for an action sequence, both in a small woodland skirmish and an epic, large-scale battle. It’s a shame then that much of the rest of the film looks so cheap – not least the plastic-y armour that looks more fancy dress shop than Hollywood blockbuster.

Warcraft throws character after character and setting after setting at the audience, all in the name of world-building. This is a film so obsessed with explanations that it feels the need to give us the back-story for why orcs are green–if only such effort had been put into the rest of the script.

There’s an uncomfortable moment when it becomes clear why that titular postscript is there, as the film stops short of finishing its story, optimistically waiting for a sequel to come. This is all setup, no payoff–but by the time you realise, you’ll be hard-pressed to care.

Words by Dominic Preston