The UnPopular Opinion: Warcraft
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
We as movie fans have been spoiled. Prior to the 21st Century, fantasy films were few and far between. Most of them were relics of the 1980s with sentimental value and the rest were animated. It would take Peter Jackson and his ambitious adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth saga to finally show Hollywood that big budget fantasy epics were financially viable. In the following decade, few films have quite grasped the level of success THE LORD OF THE RINGS enjoyed and even fewer have been critically acclaimed. This year, after a very long road to the silver screen, auteur Duncan Jones was able to bring the video game WARCRAFT to audiences. The results were critically brutal and almost as much at the domestic box office, but internationally the film was a moderate hit. Why such a disconnect between the core fan-base for the Blizzard videogame and the cinematic adaptation? The answer could be unrealistic expectations. Thanks to Peter Jackson, fantasy epics are held to an almost unattainable standard of quality when they should in fact be the epitome of summer escapism. In that regard, WARCRAFT is a resounding success.
Lets start with the basics though before you completely trash my opinion on the film. WARCRAFT is based on a video game, so we shouldn't get our hopes up for it to be a narrative masterpiece. But, there should have been immediate hope based on the fact that it was helmed an written by Duncan Jones. MOON is one of the best science fiction films of the 21st century and SOURCE CODE is an underrated gem. It was also cowritten by BLOOD DIAMOND screenwriter Charles Leavitt. On the plus side, WARCRAFT came with an already established fictional universe which gave Jones and Leavitt a lot of material to pull from. But, WARCRAFT had to appeal to existing fans of the game series as well as introduce a whole audience to the fantasy realms of humans and mythical creatures. What WARCRAFT falls prey to is being a origin story that has to deliver a massively convoluted web of histories and racial instability into a single film while also delivering on some top notch action. That means there are bound to be flaws and issues with the narrative on display because WARCRAFT has to be a franchise. To satisfy the studio bottom line and tell a worthwhile story, Duncan Jones sets up a portal to a new universe which can only be made worthy by sequels.
So, WARCRAFT is less a film than an introduction. I hate going into a movie with the expectation that it would be part one of a longer saga, but that is the way WARCRAFT has to be enjoyed. There is so much going on here that the movie has no choice but to continue moving at an incredible pace and not slow down long enough to explain things too much. For all the drawbacks of exposition spewing characters in countless other movies, WARCRAFT doesn't take the time to dwell and instead assumes the viewer will do their research or give them the benefit of the doubt. It also falls into the category of suspension of disbelief that you trust what is happening is for a reason and you will go along for the ride. WARCRAFT essentially is a ride and one that doesn't beg for you to pick apart every iota of the logic but instead forces you to trust in the continuity being built that will pay off in future stories. I have often been someone who has called out studios for making films with franchise expectations, but I do not see any other way in which WARCRAFT could have been made.
What works so well in the film is the melodrama. Where LORD OF THE RINGS relied on the gravitas of the actors and the story, WARCRAFT is awash in romance, swashbuckling, and war that makes it feel more like a fantasy that a war film. Duncan Jones was not setting out to direct a Best Picture contender at the Academy Awards but instead a special effects laden roller coaster of a film that takes you into a mystical realm that could never have been realized on the big screen even a decade ago. While lead Travis Fimmel may be the weakest performer in the cast, the talent on display here chew each and every moment as if it was their final supper. From the motion capture work by Toby Kebbell and Ben Foster to the human performances by Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper, WARCRAFT is awash in Shakespearan acting in a film that is chock full of B-movie dialogue.
But before you criticize the film for not elevating itself beyond a B-movie script, keep in mind that WARCRAFT is having fun. Like STAR WARS, Duncan Jones decided to root this film in the tone and style of serials and science fiction movies of a bygone era. WARCRAFT feels at once like a relic of the old studio blockbusters of yesteryear with the technical accomplishments of the most cutting edge productions. Duncan Jones knows that he is playing in a sandbox that few get to enjoy but WARCRAFT is not like 47 RONIN or JACK THE GIANT SLAYER or even MALIFICENT; this is not a production beseiged by going way over budget and the end results not justifying the means. Yeah, this movie cost $160 million to make but every penny can be seen on screen. The motion capture work here is some of the best that I have seen since AVATAR and the scale and scope of the visuals rivals Peter Jackson's work on THE HOBBIT. This is a fully realized and inhabited world and you truly look at the orc characters as more than animation. Like the RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES primates, these orcs are living actors enhanced with technology rather than soulless CGI creations.
WARCRAFT is campy and cheesy and unabashed fun rather than a sweeping dramatic epic. Yes, the scale here is epic, but this is a movie about creatures fighting humans. The battle sequences rival those from THE LORD OF THE RINGS but in between swords and sorcery we are given the chance to just follow these characters from one place to the next. Names mix together and lose their meaning simply because it is so hard to keep track of these obtuse and similar sounding words. What helps make WARCRAFT stand on it's own is that this story is based on a video game but is it's own tale. The film is able to veer away from the shallow story of the game and give us something unique with a direction that could go anywhere. With films often adapted from existing stories, we sometimes take for granted how wonderful not knowing what is going to happen can truly be.
WARCRAFT is exceptionally detailed, fully realized, and nerdy beyond belief. This movie may have too many subplots to follow, but you can choose to focus on the shortcomings of this fantasy or let yourself enjoy the journey. Not a single actor looks miserable to be here (except Paula Patton) and everyone tries their hardest to have fun. In the sense of any movie like WARCRAFT, you have to keep your expectations low. I did not have much desire to watch this movie when the trailers hit but found myself intrigued to see how much of a trainwreck it could possibly be. WARCRAFT is far from being a bad film but suffers from delivering the start of a franchise to a convoluted mythology. This movie is entry level enough for novices to learn about the world and gives existing fans more than enough incentive to check it out. If you are looking for a fun movie that can be enjoyed by virtually any age, WARCRAFT is for you. There are some rides worth taking and this is definitely one of them.
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