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Warcraft: The Beginning

This derivative fantasy adaptation feels like a bunch of video game cutscenes strung together.
By Sarah Ward
June 18, 2016
By Sarah Ward
June 18, 2016

If video game cutscenes ever made the leap to cinema, Warcraft: The Beginning would be the end result. Fashioning a film from the interactive fantasy franchise, the long-awaited movie version functions in much the same way: advancing a narrative, fleshing out characters, and delving into material that can't always be gleaned during gameplay. That's the good news. The bad news is that it also looks and feels the part. That's not an indictment of the movie's impressive special effects, but a reflection of the unfulfilling way the feature seems like it was pieced together from standard in-game sequences rather than specifically made for the cinema.

Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), and co-written by the filmmaker with Charles Leavitt (In the Heart of the Sea), Warcraft: The Beginning takes viewers to the realms of Draenor and Azeroth. The former, the home of the orcs, is dying, with warlock Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) using a magical force called the fel to transport his people to the latter. Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the leader of one of the orc clans, is wary of this plan, but also has his pregnant mate Draka (Anna Galvin) to worry about. Upon their arrival, they're hardly greeted with a warm welcome by Azeroth's suspicious human inhabitants — including King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), knight Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), mystic Medivh (Ben Foster) and aspiring magi Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) — although the orcs' penchant for warmongering doesn't help things either.

A clash between orc and mans ensues, and at this point, audiences could be forgiven for wishing that the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films didn't exist, or that their enormous popularity hadn't cemented the template for the action-fantasy genre. Charged with the difficult task of bringing a multi-player game to the big screen, Warcraft: The Beginning takes far too many cues from Middle Earth. The film might gather its details from the game series that dates back to 1994 in various forms, but in turning them into a feature, it's content to dwell in generic territory. Simply put, you've seen this stuff before.

A derivative game-to-film adaptation isn't the same as a bad one, though it does struggle to maintain interest. The need to set up potential sequels is made clear in the movie's title; however as the battles stop seeming distinctive, and the characters chart familiar paths, it makes much of the feature feel like filler. Jones knows how to handle action and exposition, and convey a strong sense of grandeur as well, but remains trapped by his world-building mission and the need to stick to the formula. Try as they might in both live-action and motion-captured performances, the cast are placed in a similar predicament, particularly Paula Patton as half-orc, half-human outcast Garona, who is literally caught in the middle.

When the best a movie based on a computer game can offer is CGI wizardry, something has obviously gone awry. Once fans have had their fill of clocking knowing references, even they'll likely wish they were just playing the game instead. And for everyone else — don't expected to be recruited to the horde just yet.

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