Warcraft review: Unabashedly nerdy, visually stunning, joyous fun
Director - Duncan Jones
Cast - Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, Ben Schnetzer, Ben Foster, Daniel Wu
Rating - 3.5/5
For a film that’s as technically jaw-dropping as Warcraft, Duncan Jones’ first movie in 5 long years, it tells a story as old as some of those Azerothian hills. Like many of its heroes, both orc and human, Warcraft comes bearing burdens – it carries the hopes of an entire genre. And like every nerd who’ll adore it, Warcraft is loyal to its cohorts, but also inclusive. In an army of turncoats, Warcraft emerges victorious. It is, for better or for worse, the best video game adaptation that I have ever seen. Don’t listen to what the others have to say.
Jones performs a remarkable balancing act here for a director whose first film, the low-key sci-fi gem Moon, comprised of basically one character. As fans of the decades-old video game series would know, Warcraft is a lush world, richly detailed and filled with lore. Jones, clearly a fan, filters it down to its bare essence. He brings his own unique cinematic talents and tells a story about parental legacy, race, honour, duty and the refugee crisis like it’s a war movie crossed with a western.
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As the world of the orcs crumbles and decays, an evil warlock named Gul’dan (a rather ghastly cross between Immortan Joe and a dementor) opens a portal to the world of the humans. Sir Anduin Lothar, a Lancelot-like figure, must protect his kingdom from the ‘savage beasts’ with the help of a young mage Khadgar, the powerful wizard Medivh and Garona, a half-orc and half-human torn between both sides.
The first, most obvious asset of Warcraft is its gorgeous world-building. The film looks stunning. In Durotan, a conflicted orc chieftain, it has created the most convincing motion capture character since Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. There is not a single frame in which he looks artificial. You’re with him as he challenges Gul’dan, as he cradles his newborn son in his arms and as he rallies an army behind him. He and Khadgar are the stand-outs of the film.
A common complaint of such films is that their effects feel weightless. That’s not the case here. When that orc hammer crushes skulls, you feel the heft. And this helps the storytelling, which could quite easily have come off as tired and familiar. Refreshingly, death means death in Warcraft, and for its bravery to commit to its ideas, I admire it.
Yes, the World of Warcraft is famously niche, but you certainly don’t need to have any prior knowledge of this world to appreciate this film. My knowledge is peripheral at best and I found myself engrossed.
It is rare that a film this ambitious doesn’t have flaws. In fact, being flawed is a necessary ingredient of being ambitious. Warcraft makes more than a few missteps, the most jarring of which is that it ends rather abruptly, and in its final moments, carries that familiar glimmer of a sequel in its eyes. There was also an ineffective and brief romance that was thankfully smothered before it could get any more cringe-worthy.
But above all else, Warcraft is joyous fun. It might be cluttered and overwhelming at times, there is no denying that it is a film made with love. It is unafraid to be nerdy, it laughs in the face of mockery. It embraces its goofiness. When it beckons you to join in on the fun, let it.