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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Review: Warcraft (2016)

Warning: Spoilers!
As a huge fan of both video games and the fantasy genre I felt that I just had to see Warcraft. However, I have never played the Warcraft games so unlike the other movies that I have reviewed on this blog,like Captain America: Civil War ( I went into the movie comparatively blind. Regardless let us start the review and as always this review does contain spoilers.

Plot and Characters
The homeworld of the orcs, Draenor, is dying so the leader of the Horde Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) uses a magic named the Fel to transport the orcs to a new realm of Azeroth to live. However, an orc chieftan called Durotan (Toby Kebbell) has doubts as the Fel requires life to be used. Meanwhile the people of Azeroth have to withstand the bloodthirsty attacks of the Horde as Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) of Stormwind, a young mage called Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and a captured half-orc called Garona (Paula Patton) must work with Durotan and the protector Medivh (Ben Foster) who may also harbor ulterior motives. The plot may seem convoluted but it works really well. It dabbles with the tropes of the fantasy genre, the type of fantasy that is popularized by Tolkein, and brings new life to it. I must give credit though to Duncan Jones (the director) and the writers. For one, they did rewrites of the script to tell the both sides point of view which really fleshes out the motives of the characters. You want to see the orcs defeated as they are murdering people but simultaneously you want them to succeed as the reason why they are doing this is somewhat justified. At times the orc commander Blackhand (Clancy Brown) seemed relatable and the apparent betrayal of Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky) seemed more justified. Also they new how much of the Warcraft lore to put in. Whereas The Hobbit trilogy focused too much on explaining every detail of Tolkein's lore the writers went the Lord of the Rings route where they put in lore when it was essential for the plot. The plot drove when lore was used and not the other way around. For that they did a good job.

The orc characters were done really well. I genuinely liked Durotan and really enjoyed seeing his relationship with both his friends and his wife. Garona was portrayed very well also. The writers really captured a struggle between two literal worlds. Considering that orcs are rarely viewed as protagonists this added new life to the fantasy genre. Much of this was down to good acting (discussed later) but the orcs were done really well. However, the only human character which I felt that was done right was Lothar. He was well written with good motivations as well as realistic reactions to those around him. The other characters were not nearly as memorable. Medivh seemed in essence a useless character until the final act where his corruption by the Fel was apparent since his first scene. In comparison to Gul'dan he was a much less impressive antagonist. Khadgar fitted the trope of 'bookworm becomes hero' which seemed extremely forced. Like Medivh he seemed to be a useless character. I really dislike the 'bookworm/shy person/loser becomes the hero' trope regardless but I disliked it even more here. Mostly as when it is normally used the bookworm/loser/shy person is the protagonist. To me Lothar seemed the central protagonist for the Alliance which negated the need for this trope. Finally we have the human king and queen. Quite frankly they meant so little that I never learnt their names. They seemed tacked on whose only use was to be McGuffins. Overall Lothar and the orcs were the only well written characters.

Most of the reason why the above characters seemed either so good or so bad was the acting. Good acting can make a poorly written character good. Batman in Batman v Superman was poorly written but Ben Affleck's performance made him good. Virtually all of the human characters bar Lothar were poorly acted. Most of the lines were delivered with virtually no emotion. It seemed that the acting was equivalent of the first take that they did. During the ambush scene when Lothar's son basically says goodbye to his father for the last time it was given with so little energy that me ordering a pizza at a restaurant before the movie had more emotion than his performance. As said earlier the king and queen were so forgettable that I never learnt their names. Paula Patton as Garona was passable. At times, particularly the final scene, it was good but half the time her performance was bland. The only saving grace was that her character was well written. However, Lothar and the orcs were really well done. Travis Fimmel really got into his role and brought some of his charm from Vikings with him. He brought energy to a lethargic movie and I genuinely enjoyed every scene he was in. He was funny and he could be serious. His anger and sadness following the death of his character's son seemed very genuine and very emotive. However, the orc acting really stole the movie. Literally every character was well voiced. Robert Kazinsky, Toby Kebbell and Anna Galvin were extremely good. It felt that there was a bond between them and out of all the characters they were by far the best. Daniel Wu felt very foreboding as Gul'dan and his voice gave off a clear air of omnipotence and malevolence but, it also sounded very cunning. Very few could effectively pull that off. Finally we have Clancy Brown who did a stellar job. I hardly recognized him; he was one of my favorite DC Animated Universe voice actors playing Lex Luthor so judging by how I didn't recognize him shows how good he was. Lothar and the orcs were good whereas everyone else fell flat.

For the most part the effects were done extremely well. I particularly loved seeing the wolves that the orcs rode on. You could see virtually every individual hair move. That level of detail really pushed the immersion factor for me. I liked also the mixture of practical effects and CGI. The makeup and costume design for Garona was really phenomenal and looked very realistic. Several scenes where live action actors stood alongside orcs and backgrounds made via computers looked very good. I know the orcs were made with motion capture suits made the orcs look so much more real. The crew did a really phenomenal job with the orcs; they were easily some of the best CGI created beings that I have seen in a movie since the last Star Wars. I also like how they created props of the weapons to give ideas of sizes and shading. It is some extra work that goes a long way. For the most part I really liked how they kept the design of the Warcraft world. The video game world from what I have seen is very unique which came off well on the screen. It also gives a very good homage for the fans of the Warcraft series. At times though the special effects can work against it. This mainly happened during battle scenes where so much was going on simultaneously and it seemed to look like a video game cutscene from five years ago. Also, some of the Warcraft designs did not adapt well to the big screen. Some of the Alliance armor looked too over the top to be taken seriously which was really immersion breaking and the elves, briefly that they did appear, definitely did not look good live action. The Fel as well did not look good at all with it appearing very fake. Maybe the film could have benefited from being entirely CGI instead of being both live action and CGI.

Pacing and Editing
I must say this was the movie's biggest flaw. Scenes seemed to end very abruptly which was very off putting. Also the pacing was not good at all. It seemed that the film continue beginning and then end. Instead of a beginning which seamlessly transitions to middle and then end it seemed to have one elongated beginning before ending quickly. Although the script rewrites did have a positive of showing more sides to the story I feel that may have caused the problem. They tried to fit too much into the film. As a result all the issues with pacing, editing and character development occurred as a result in my opinion. A good example is Lothar and his son. They have a few scenes of rushed dialogue together and then the son dies in a supposedly heart wrenching scene. However, not enough time was devoted to their relationship for me to properly care. We felt so bad when Gandalf died in Fellowship of the Ring was because the film makers chose to build a bond between us and Gandalf. Of course you do not need a large portion of the movie devoted to this, the video game The Last of Us tugged at the heart of every gamer with the death of a character in the first few minutes of gameplay. We cared so much because the writers built a relationship up. Warcraft lacked this for almost all the characters. The king's death and the betrayal/salvation of Medivh also fell flat for this reason. Luckily, they knew what to do with the lore of the world so that at least remained interesting. Warcraft is a rare case of a movie needing to be in two parts. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows worked so well as it was split over two movies which enabled us to really engage with the characters without hindering the lore and story. This could have benefited Warcraft. We could have had time to create character development instead of blurting out what the characters are feeling to have time to fit everything in.

If you are a Warcraft fan you will love this film. Judging from reviews on IMDb Warcraft fans love this film so if you love those games you will love this film. This film has actually got me interested in the Warcraft franchise and the lore behind it so it has done something right. If you like the series I would give it a 7.5/10 but I have never played the Warcraft games and, what enjoyment I had of the film was let down by bad acting, poor editing and poor pacing. These aren't minor problems though. They are serious faults which ruins a promising film. Hopefully, if sequels are made they can fix the pacing and editing to make every character be memorable so a true classic fantasy series like Lord of the Rings can be made. Overall I give Warcraft 6.3/10. An average film with some highlights but with flaws. It does have two major positives though: it got me interested  in the series and it is by far the best (live action) video game movie out there.

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