You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Warcraft’

Hollywood's habit of turning hit videogames into unwatchable movies continues unabated.

Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Rob Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Callum Keith Rennie, Burkely Duffield, Ryan Robbins, Dean Redman, Glenn Close.
Release Date:
Jun 10, 2016

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0803096/

The epic battle at the center of “Warcraft” isn’t the clash between humans and orcs. That’s just what takes up roughly two hours of screen time. The true conflict comes from filmmakers trying to tell a story with soul and struggling against the inherent ridiculousness of the commodity they’re working with. It shouldn’t take a mage to foresee that this pricey and preposterous adaptation of an online gaming phenomenon was preordained for artistic mediocrity.

With little concern for all those already perplexed at the mention of orcs and mages, “Warcraft” plunges headfirst into a fantasy realm teeming with mythical creatures, magical spells and exotically named characters and locations. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it approach likely to have most audience members opting for the latter, though devotees of the immersive role-playing source material may have an entirely different experience. If so, Universal will have to hope they storm the box office early and often. Otherwise the studio could be looking at one of the biggest duds of the summer.

That’s despite the noble effort of director Duncan Jones, who helmed the lower-budget sci-fi wonders “Moon” and “Source Code” and labors mightily here to craft a solid emotional foundation in his script with Charles Leavitt. The “Warcraft” games — which have radically declined in popularity from a high of 12 million regular users in 2010 to a recent low of close to 5 million (so low the company behind it no longer releases subscriber counts to the public) — were never meant to have the narrative depth of “The Lord of the Rings,” or even “Game of Thrones.” But the film cribs freely from both of those sources anyway, as well as “Star Wars,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Avatar” and numerous other recent blockbusters.

The orcs, a race of giant warrior beasts, flee their dying homeland of Draenor through a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth, where they wage a full-scale attack on unsuspecting humans for control of the land. Orc soldier Durotan (Toby Kebbell, like all orc players, working in performance capture) questions the brutal ways of his clansmen — led by warchief Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and power-hungry warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) — and believes a compromise without bloodshed is possible. His counterpart on the human side is Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel of TV’s “Vikings”), a knight devoted to serving his benevolent king and queen (Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga).

Durotan’s fierce mate Draka (Anna Galvin) delivers an adorable orc baby early on, and Lothar’s son Callan (Burkely Duffield) is determined to impress his father on the battlefield. Those family ties are duly exploited for maximum melodramatic impact, as the dual protagonists rage and question and mourn and soulfully ponder the complexity that exists on two sides of any conflict.

Ditto Garona (Paula Patton), a slave claiming to be half-orc, half-human, who makes her way through the portal and finds herself torn between the two sides. She quickly gets cozy with Lothar, but it’s hard to take Patton or the character seriously with her “Star Trek”-alien-esque green skin and the oversized fangs jutting out from her jaw, looking like a last minute find in the Halloween store bargain bin, and making her sound like she has a mouth full of magic beans.

And that goes to the root of the problems with “Warcraft”: it’s an unwaveringly earnest film that never owns up to exactly how campy every character, every conflict and every new realm truly is. Ben Foster has another central role as reclusive wizard Medivh, a “Guardian” of Azeroth who has been not so subtly dabbling in dark magic. He’s introduced sculpting a golem (surely you’ll recall the old chestnut about Chekhov’s golem), shirtless and wild-eyed, but it takes Lothar quite some time to piece together the warning signs. Medivh should be fun, but Foster’s deadpan turn is, like the movie around him, a drag.

With its meticulously detailed realms built out primarily on soundstages and enhanced via CGI during extensive post-production, “Warcraft” aims for fresh and eye-popping and yet ends up shopworn and rather tacky. It fits into a long line of visually audacious Hollywood gambles: In success you wind up with a sleeper that few see coming, like “300” (or, if you strike the bull’s-eye, a phenomenon like “Avatar”), but the ones that miss — “The Spirit,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Sucker Punch” — tend to tank hard.

Boasting more than 2,000 visual effects shots, it’s dispiriting to think about the time, energy, planning and precision that went into “Warcraft” when the final product brings to mind those animated advertisements for iPhone app games. So good at making the most outlandish elements of his first two films seem completely credible, Jones can’t find a way to get this cartoony spectacle to soar. His heartfelt approach to the material only underlines the silliness.

Production designer Gavin Bocquet, costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo and visual effects supervisors Bill Westenhofer, Jeff White and Jason Smith lead the heavy lifting on the artisans side, since what the producers essentially purchased with the source material is a collection of locations, wardrobe, weapons, and spells.

“Warcraft” ends with a set-up for a sequel, but also the feeling that if this is what combat looks like, it’s time to give peace a chance.

Film Review: 'Warcraft'

Reviewed at AMC Universal CityWalk 19, Universal City, May 9, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 123 MIN.  

Production: A Universal Pictures release of a Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures presentation of a Legendary Pictures / Blizzard Entertainment / Atlas Entertainment production. Produced by Charles Roven, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Alex Gartner, Stuart Fenegan. Executive producers, Jillian Share, Brent O’Connor, Michael Morhaime, Paul Sams, La Peikang, Edward Cheng, Qian Shimu, Wang Zhonglei. Co­-producers, Chris Metzen, Nick Carpenter, Rob Pardo, Rebecca Steel Roven.  

Crew: Directed by Duncan Jones. Screenplay, Charles Leavitt, Jones, based on Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft. Camera (color, Arri Alexa HD, widescreen, 3D), Simon Duggan; editor, Paul Hirsch; music, Ramin Djawadi; music supervisors, Peter Afterman, Margaret Yen; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; supervising art director, Helen Jarvis; art directors, Rod McLean, Dan Hermansen, Grant van der Slagt, Margot Ready; set decorator, Elizabeth Wilcox; costume designer, Mayes C. Rubeo; sound (DTS X/Dolby Atmos), Eric Batut; supervising sound editors, Wylie Stateman, Tom Bellfort; re-recording mixers, Mike Prestwood Smith, Michael Keller; sound effects designer, Harry Cohen; visual effects supervisors, Bill Westenhofer, Jeff White, Jason Smith; animation supervisor, Hal Hickel; visual effects producer, Mark Soper; visual effects art director, Chris Beach; animation-visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, Hybride, Rodeofx, Base FX; face scanning, Medusa Performance Capture; stunt coordinator-second unit director, Tom Struthers; fight coordinators, Roger Yuan, Andre Tricoteux; movement choreographer, Terry Notary; makeup department head, Connie Parker; hair department head, Sanna Seppanen; assistant director, Pete Whyte; second unit camera, Stewart Whelan; casting, Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham.

With: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Rob Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Callum Keith Rennie, Burkely Duffield, Ryan Robbins, Dean Redman, Glenn Close.

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content