Monday, June 20, 2016
No, I’ve never played the video game World of Warcraft, but I’ve seen the $161-million dollar, PG-13 rated, Universal Pictures’ extravaganza. What “Source Code” director Duncan Jones, “Seventh Son” scenarist Charles Leavitt, and “Warcraft II & III” video game scribe Chris Metzen have wrought is a larger-than-life, adventure fantasy inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic “Lord of the Rings” and C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” novels. This sprawling sword & sorcery saga pits terrestrial humans against marauding extraterrestrial Orcs in a cornucopia of striking computer generated images. If you’ve seen either the trailers or publicity photos for “Warcraft” (**1/2 OUT OF ****), you know those intimidating Orcs resemble Goliath-like humanoids, possess massive limbs, and have a Frank Frazetta look. Tusks bulge improbably from their grim mouths as if they were colossal warthogs. Indeed, these belligerent invaders emerge as mighty gruesome. They wield humongous hammers that would make Thor crap in his drawers, and they abide by a staunch code of honor. Namely, Orcs don’t fib. Once they promise something, they adhere to their word. Of course, the Orcs are avatars that unseen but seasoned thespians such as Toby Kebbell, Rob Kazinsky, and Clancy Brown portray in motion capture outfits. Meantime, the humans resemble Arthurian knights adorned in elaborate suits of armor with massive glittering swords. Whereas the Orcs gallivant around on gigantic wolves, the humans cruise the skies astraddle giant Griffins when they aren’t riding horses. Aside from Travis Fimmel’s sympathetic protagonist Anduin Lothar and Dominic Cooper’s noble King Llane Wrynn, “Warcraft” relies largely on hundreds of CGI characters. What these characters lack in depth, Jones and his special effects wizards compensate for with ghoulish countenances. The filmmakers are not interested in diplomacy as much as they are fascinated with the pugnacious warriors and warlords as they engage in a battle to the death for a little over two hours. This above-average, cinematic adaptation isn’t as abhorrent as many critics have claimed, and the narrative ambiguities in “Warcraft” actually provide it with some surprising depth. Neither Orcs nor humans are entirely either evil or heroic.
“Warcraft” chronicles a merciless clash between two vastly different races of warriors. First, director Duncan Jones and his scribes introduce us to the mighty Orcs. Hailing from a dying planet named Draenor, they set out to conquer the planet Azeroth where King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper of “Need for Speed”) of Stormwind presides over a human population living in comparative peace. Those rugged, mesomorphic Orcs march to the orders of a wicked warlock, Gul’dan (voiced by Daniel Wu of “Europa Report”), who resembles the spawn of Satan with an elaborate thicket of antlers bristling from his back. Gul’dan mobilizes the Orc tribes into an army called the Horde, and he conjures up a colossal trans-dimensional portal. The Orc shaman practices a noxious form of Black magic called the Fel. He deploys the Fel to make the portal operational. The portal derives its power from the life force of captives that the Orcs have imprisoned and transported to Azeroth. This mysterious Fel depletes life energy of those prisoners and their life energy maintains the portal. This portal is reminiscent of the gateways in the vintage sci-fi film “Stargate” and the television series it spun off that transported individuals from one world to another. The murky green Fel is so toxic that it corrupts anybody and anything, and this malignant force has warped Gul’dan so dreadfully that some of his own kind have come to abhor it.
The Orc warrior Durotan (voice of Toby Kebbell of “Fantastic Four”) rules the Frostwolf Clan. As one of the many Draenor tribes, the Frostwolf Clan has joined Gul’dan’s Horde. Durotan wants his people, particularly his pregnant wife Draka (voice of Anna Galvin), to thrive as prosperously as they once did before their planet began to deteriorate. Durotan’s clan takes its name from the enormous wolves that they ride. Meantime, Durotan doesn’t completely trust Gul’dan or the terrible green Fel magic that destroys everything it touches. This generates considerable friction between Durotan and war chieftain Blackhand (voiced by Clancy Brown of “Highlander”), especially after the latter discovers that the former is plotting treason behind his back. Durotan calls a truce and has words with King Wynn, but Blackhand surprises the two and attacks them. During this wild melee, Stormwind’s sorcerer Medivh, (Ben Foster of “The Mechanic”) the legendary Guardian of Tirisfal, saves King Wynn’s life by deploying a shield to thwart Blackhand’s warriors from slaying him. Unfortunately, King Wynn’s army commander Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel of “Vikings”) loses his son, when the young warrior is caught on the wrong side. Not only does Lothar suspect that the Fel has corrupted Medivh, but he also believes that Medivh and Gul’dan may have been conspiring with each other.
Anybody who isn’t thoroughly acquainted with the mythology of Warcraft may find themselves bewildered by the byzantine stratums of the story. Painstaking research enabled me to clear up who was who in the complex line-up of characters. Indeed, I talked with a seasoned “Warcraft” gamer who has been playing the Blizzard Entertainment game for over a decade. I watched “Warcraft” twice before I gained a clear understanding of the hierarchies for both the Horde and Stormwind Alliance. If you’ve never played Warcraft, the best way to enjoy “Warcraft” the movie is to savor it simply for both its breathtaking computer generated imagery and interesting combatants. The grotesque Orcs are extremely ugly, while the Stormwind warriors reminded me of King Arthur’s knights from the classic movie “Excalibur.” “Blood Diamond” scenarist Charles Leavitt and “Warcraft” game author Chris Metzen gloss over some salient points in the Warcraft universe. Miraculously, director Duncan Jones doesn’t let the plethora of exposition take the edge off the savage, testosterone-laden action. He plunges audiences into the stunning CGI imagery with its adrenalin-laced action sequences without drenching us in gallons of blood and gore to compensate for the plot. “Warcraft” lives up to its title without wearing out its welcome at 123 minutes.