"Warcraft" Movie Review: Written & Directed by Duncan Jones
When you think of the greatest video games, what attributes automatically come to mind? Is it the realistic graphics, open world game play, or inventive storytelling? Is it the side missions and unexpected quests? Like film goers, gamers come in many variants - from the intense buffs to the casual, devil may care. When one thinks of excellent game to movie adaptations, unfortunately the list of successful ones are unbelievably small. Now, in comes Duncan Jones, son of the late androgynous stalwart David Bowie, with a film based on venerable MMORPG franchise "Warcraft". His film, with an official title of Warcraft: The Beginning, is packed to the brim with visual panache and Lord of the Rings-level spectacle that frequently defies characterization. While its not totally successful, its certainly one of the most ambitious outings put to screen in some time.
Jones is no stranger to the sci-fi/fantasy genre. His breakout feature, "Moon", starring a stranded Sam Rockwell as an astronaut mining helium on the moon along with a HAL-like computer voiced by Kevin Spacey and Jones's follow-up, the significantly higher budgeted but no less unique "Source Code" starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a desperate soldier trying to stop a train bombing via Inception-like mind implantation are a testament to the writer-director's seemingly innate skill. Jones, as an auteur, always injects his films with narrative twists and turns that never seem cheap or unearned. He never takes the intelligence of his audience for granted and entreats them with respect with a high rate of rewarding viewing. With Warcraft, his first (and definitely not his last) franchise feature, Jones takes his passion for the game and finely crafts an origin story that isn't especially original but encapsulates what you might fondly remember about the first time you booted up the game on your old school PC.
So, just how simple is the story? Its actually pretty black and white. Warcraft's Orcs are in danger of being decimated and extinct by one of their own who decides to go rogue. Out of sheer desperation, a contingent of do-gooder Orcs seek out help from the most unlikely of sources: humans and, to a lesser extent, mages. As in most fantastical stories, humans and Orcs are almost always at odds ideologically, culturally and philosophically and this film is no different. Similarly, the mages/sorcerers are portrayed as beings of singular, all-encompassing wisdom but in this movie's universe, they are flawed and have a penchant for straddling the darkness in their path to the light. Ben Foster's ultra powerful spellcaster Medivh is wonderfully realized - an elder wizard trying to keep the peace but who becomes infected by darkness that threatens the sanctity of the entire world. You may remember the actor from his turn as mutant Angel in "X-Men: The Last Stand" and, more recently, in his Oscar-snubbed portrayal of Lance Armstrong in the Stephen Frears-directed drama "The Program". He does choice work here. Other standouts include Ben Schnetzer as Medivh's apprentice Khadgar and the menacingly gravel-voiced Clancy Brown as renegade villainous orc Blackhand who does some of his best work since his portrayal of Lex Luthor in the critically acclaimed early 2000s "Justice League: The Animated Series" and in Season 1 of CW's "The Flash" as General Eiling.
Does Jones skimp on feminine star power? While the movie is overwhelmingly masculine in terms of acting talent assembled, there is one clearly definable diamond among the cast that deserves a serious mention: Paula Patton's half-orc half-draenei Horde member Garona steals many of her male costars scenes as the bridge and eventual peace keeper and mitigator between the race of orc, men and mage. While there is a blossoming romance that takes shape between Garona and Travis Fimmel's warrior knight Anduin, Patton's role does so much more than that. Her character is central to the disparate factions uniting for the common good and seeing past their differences. She even does make an unthinkable sacrifice.
It has been reported that this film has gone down in the record books as the most financially successful video game adaptation to date. With a reported budget of (just) $160 million and a global box office haul of about $377 million, it has handily earned most of its profits from overseas earnings. This positions this film to begin a film franchise even though the film's distributor, Legendary, hasn't made anything official. Should we be collectively enthusiastic at this prospect or heaving a disinterested moan at this turning into something like the "Avatar" films? This reviewer is optimistic that Jones or whomever Legendary decides to hire after him will shape this into a series worthy of the video game's positive recognition and lasting impact among generations of gamers. If anything, "Warcraft: The Beginning" sets the foundation with a decent origin story, committed acting/performance capture and thrilling, escapist visuals that do wonders with a pair of 3D glasses on.
Duncan Jones said in interviews and press conferences leading up to Warcraft's release that his next two films include "one for them" meaning this movie and "one for him" with a film called "Mute" that has cast its two principal leads: Tarzan's Alexander Skarsgard and our favorite every man "Ant-Man" and "Captain America: Civil War" actor Paul Rudd with a description that is truly intriguing: "A mute bartender goes up against his city's gangsters in an effort to find out what happened to his missing partner." I am definitely game!