The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.
Director Duncan Jones made a name for himself in 2009 with the low budget, and well received film “Moon”. From there he quickly gained studio confidence to helm much larger budget films, this led to this year’s Warcraft, which boasts a production budget of around $160 million.
Warcraft has a lot riding on it, a large budget, and the first film to adapt one of software developer Blizzard’s beloved franchises in cinema. The film is challenged with the task of introducing a rich and diverse setting, while still telling a cohesive self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion yet one that sets up the potential for an ongoing series.
To the films credit, despite the rich history it doesn’t overwhelm audiences with exposition, spending long stretches of time trying to explain everything. Instead, it gives a brief intro and essentially throws the viewer into the deep end, tasking them with picking things up along the way. In this regard, and despite a hugely detailed sandbox to play in, it also hones in on just a few central events, and races to focus on for this story, and while it flirts with becoming overly convoluted, for the most part it retains its initial structure and flow throughout.
The film propels characters to the forefront of the story, and for everything going on around them, it boils down to a premise that makes for a fun film, which isn’t going to exclude anyone who isn’t up to speed on the history of Azeroth. The underlying themes are identifiable for anyone from World of Warcraft veterans to those who have never seen a Warcraft game.
Moving towards its final act, it’s made clear that virtually no-one in the film is safe, with apparent key characters having been killed off earlier, it raises the stakes more dramatically than what you otherwise might expect, which makes everything more compelling.
For those more familiar with the video game background from which the film emerged, it nails the art style, and visual character design, from the swords and armour, to the orcs and broad landscapes. However, It’s extremely CGI heavy, which gives mixed results. By the end of the two hour running time the world feels less tangible and lived in, and more like something that’s obviously been built with visual effects.
As Jones has placed a lot of emphasis on utilising the characters as a main centrepiece, the material can be reasonably demanding on the cast and unfortunately performances aren’t always as strong as they need to be to elevate the drama. Travis Fimmel is charismatic and well-cast in his role, Ben Foster is usually reliable but here delivers something a little flat, while Ben Schnetzer’s performance ranges from competent to weak during certain key scenes which the film suffers for.
Interestingly Warcraft delves right back to its roots, crafting a story out of 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, rather than the insanely popular (and more recent release) World of Warcraft. But doing so makes sense in a lot of ways, and all involved clearly have high hopes for the film, with ambitions for an ongoing series to further explore this setting.
Warcraft kicks off the potential franchise on mostly the right foot, despite a few shortcomings it’s overall an enjoyable film, which does more right than wrong. I’m giving it 7 out of 10 stars, you can see Warcraft in cinemas around Australia from Thursday 16th June 2016.