Video game to film adaptations have had a rather chequered past with very few successes. This year has already seen the release of Angry Birds (which was a decent, if not fantastic, effort) with Assassin’s Creed on the horizon and Warcraft now out in cinema is this finally the year video game based movies start to garner critical success?
Warcraft takes place mainly in the fantasy realm of Azeroth, and predominantly in the singular kingdom of Stormwind. A group of orcs led by the sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) are led through a portal to Azeroth. Amongst them are Chieftain of the Frostwolf clan Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his wife Draka (Anna Galvin), best friend Orgrim DoomHammer (Robert Kazinsky), Chieftain of the horde Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and half orc/half human Garona (Paula Patton) an enslaved half breed. The horde begins to attack villages in the realm and take prisoners prompting King Llane (Dominic Cooper) to dispatch Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and a young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) to confront the foes whilst also calling on the help of the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) to help defend their people.
So there are a lot of characters in Warcraft, I’ve not even introduced all of the supporting characters in the above paragraph, and naturally not all of them are as well characterised as each other. That being said enough of them are imbued with enough depth that you care for the outcome of the majority of their storylines. The orc’s designs are impressive, with the aid of the high performance of the motion capture, and Toby Kebbell’s Durotan is one of the more impressive performers in this film. He is ably supported by Paula Patton’s turn as a half breed unsure of her role in the war to come and the ensemble as a whole play the parts well with Anna Galvin, Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer worthy of particular praise. Inevitably it’s the work of director Duncan Jones that is perhaps most important with his visual flair in managing to take what is such a CGI heavy film and invigorate it with a heft of weight that other fantasy films (Such as the Hobbit Trilogy) lacked in its action sequences. You feel the force of the hits, the sound of bones breaking which makes these CG battles more entrancing than your average fair. This coincides with Warcraft’s treatment of its characters as more complex beings than your standard blockbuster, though not all fully fledged there is a steady stream of intrigue and surprise within the characterisation that I was pleasantly surprised throughout. With such an epic scope Warcraft does sadly suffer as it attempts to cover all its bases within a two hour runtime fulfilling its ambitious narrative obligations alongside its necessary criteria to be a major studio summer blockbuster. The marriage is one of convenience and compromise than one match made in heaven, so to speak, as some secondary characters are left unexplored and some dramatic moments within the plot would have benefited from more time to be constructed than was allowed. Perhaps a director’s cut of the film will be made available to allay these issues at a later date. It would be wrong of me not to mention the fine contribution of Ramin Djawadi in scoring Warcraft, as a veteran of the fantasy genre (Having created the GoT theme that is so damn catchy) he continues his good work with a boisterous, pounding symphony that compliments the film terrifically.
All in all I was surprised how much I enjoyed Warcraft having heard so much negative criticism before I was able to see the film. Despite containing a lot of characters, locations and fantasy gobbledegook I never felt lost or confused by the narrative which shows Duncan Jones has a great skill for maintaining a coherent plot. With little competition this, for me, now sits as the best video game to film adaptation ever. If you’re a fan of fantasy then it’s definitely worth taking a trip to Azeroth, and if you’re not a fan well maybe give it a try as perhaps, like me, you will be pleasantly surprised by how attached you can get to an orc.
Review by Alexander Halsall