Duncan Jones is certainly not one to shirk a challenge. The director’s previous efforts, Moon and Source Code, both had complex narratives that required weaving together. Still, the overwhelming feeling is that, in attempting to adapt this gargantuan video game franchise, this time he has taken on more than he can handle.
The universe of World of Warcraft, a game adored by millions but completely alien to millions more, is a sprawling one. It’s packed with a vast number of lands which are populated by all manner of fantastical creatures – humans, orcs, dwarves and elves. And while Jones just about manages to herd all these elements into a coherent narrative, it’s one that lacks heart and a crucial sense of fun.
Those familiar with fantasy epics like Avatar and The Hobbit will not be surprised by this routine clash of worlds tale. There’s even a magical McGuffin to drive the plot in the form of a giant portal which helps an orc horde, led by the patently evil sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), escape their dying world. They wash up in the kingdom of Azeroth intent on ridding the land of its human settlers in preparation for the arrival of the rest of their population.
With the humans rapidly losing ground, noble King Llane (Dominic Cooper) calls upon his most trusted warrior Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and magical guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) to face the threat. They find an unlikely ally in Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the noble leader of an orc clan who has come to doubt Gul’dan’s methods.
Visually, the film is breathtaking. Both the orc world and Azeroth are expertly detailed and boast many stunning vistas. The battle scenes also impress, matching exhilarating spectacle with important character beats without become a tangled mess of CGI.
The design of the orcs is even more impressive. Using ILM to bring the creatures to life in all their hulking, phlegmy glory, the orcs are gigantic enough to pose a crushing threat yet they remain sufficiently human that you still empathise with their struggles.
There are far too many lead characters, though. The likes of Kebbell, Fimmel and Foster put everything into giving their characters real depth but without enough time to fully explore their roles, they are little more than clichéd archetypes. So much so, when it comes to killing off the main players, which Jones does with alacrity, it’s hard to care that they’ve gone.
Perhaps Warcraft might have benefited from the long form structure of TV, where there’s more time to explore characters and develop a story. As a film, though, events are simply too rushed and overcrowded to do the story justice. It doesn’t help that many of the plot strands are purposefully left unresolved ready for a sequel that might never arrive. It’s a frustratingly incomplete end to a film that promised so much but ultimately fell short precisely because it dreamed too big.
Runtime: 123 mins; Genre: Fantasy; Released: 30 May 2016;
Director: Duncan Jones; Writers: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt, Chris Metzen
Cast: Toby Kebbell, Travis Fimmel, Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster
Click here to watch a trailer for Warcraft: The Beginning