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Warcraft (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Ben Schnetzer, Tony Kebbell

Written By: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt, Chris Metzen (story) Directed By: Duncan Jones

The Shot

If you’re an established fan of Blizzard’s “Warcraft” gaming franchise, then Warcraft the movie turned out better than you’re probably expecting despite its many flaws.  If you’re new to the scene, then a lot of the story’s details aren’t going to make sense, but it still plays well enough as fast-moving sword and sorcery eye candy to make for a good time.  Zug zug!

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If you’ve ever played “World of Warcraft,” you get the joke.  (Personally, I always had at least one full stack of Cheap Beer in my inventory.)  Serve it up in the Tankard of Terror, if you like.

“Broken bones heal stronger.  I am very strong.”

Once upon a time, Blizzard Entertainment released a real time strategy game called “Warcraft.”  It was just one of many flooding the market back then, but its compelling playability and well-developed storyline about a conflict between Orcs and Humans put it in front of the pack and made it a big enough hit to spawn two strategy-oriented sequels.  Then came the massively successful “World of Warcraft,” the game that rewrote the rules about what multiplayer online gaming could be to the tune of roughly a bazillion paying subscribers, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Of course someone was going to eventually make a movie out of it.

But lo!  The folks at Blizzard were savvy, so when schlock master Uwe Boll came calling, they gave him a very firm (and not necessarily polite) “no.”  They knew the value of what they had, and they didn’t want to squander it on a cheap and lousy film.  And so many years went by until finally, The Powers That Be decided that they’d found a winning team under the command of Director Duncan Jones.

This leaves us all to ask: how did they do?

It almost goes without saying that they most certainly did better than they would have if they’d let Uwe Boll have his way, but there; I said it anyway.  Beyond that, Warcraft presents a mixed bag of hits and misses that add up to something “pretty good.”  Not great, and definitely could have been better, but none the less exceeding my tempered expectations and well worth taking the time to see in a theatre.

If Warcraft had nothing else going for it, the visual effects alone would be well worth the price of admission.  This flick was in post prod for a year and two thirds, and it shows.  The locations – which run fairly heavy on the CGI, both interior and exterior – are stunning, as are the battle sequences (especially when it’s time to cast a magic spell or two), and all of it is in real service to the tale being told.  But without question, the biggest visual achievement here comes in the form of the Orcs, which are CGI characters built over motion capture.  They look very impressive; enough so to accept within a “real” world without any hesitation at all, and to get a character leg up on a certain screen saver flick made by a certain Mr. Cameron seven years back.  (Though the non-CGI make-up jobs on the Night Elves are atrocious; fortunately, they get almost no screen time and are easy to forget.)  The Orcs get a further boost from actors who know how to deliver a moving performance from behind a visual effect, reading from a script that gives them real personality and depth.

And then there’s Paula Patton as Garona, the only Orc in Warcraft who’s not a CGI effect (owing to the fact that she’s only half Orc).  Without a doubt, she delivers the most compelling performance in the entire movie… which is pretty impressive, considering that every time her character seems ready to break through to the next level, the same script that makes her fellow Orcs work so well makes every effort to hold her back.  Move on to the movie’s regular humans, and you can pretty well forget it beyond Travis Fimmel’s smartass performance as the military leader Anduin, whose name you’re not going to catch if you didn’t know it already.  Despite playing in a fantasy world that begs its actors to go over the top, everyone playing a human (aside from Fimmel) keeps to a level that can only be described as “mediocre,” or worse in some cases.

Fortunately for them, the movie flies along at a fast enough pace that it’s easy not to notice the human actors’ shortcomings, especially with the help they get from those playing Orcs.  Indeed, that fast pace helps to cover a few sins, including the fact that if you weren’t already savvy to the world of “Warcraft,” a lot of this flick’s story just doesn’t make any sense.  Oh, there’s a bare minimum provided to allow newbies to enjoy themselves in a “hey, I’m just here for the swords and the fantasy world eye candy” sort of way – which is enough to cross the “call it a success” threshold, to be sure – but that demon guy and the massive amount of spare time devoted to this baby Orc who ends up getting treated like Moses?  Yeah, forget it.

Of course, if you have played “Warcraft” in any of its forms – and there are millions upon millions of you, including me for many years before I decided to retire from the game – then you know this story, because it is the very foundation of the entire franchise that’s been built upon since the very first “Warcraft” strategy game: the Orcs’ arrival on Azeroth through the Dark Portal.  And thanks to the fact the Blizzard’s own master storyteller Chris Metzen developed the screen story for Warcraft, it’s faithful to what you know… except for the part where Garona gets a major rewrite, but I’ll let you discover just how for yourself.  Your previously earned Experience Points will allow you to fill in the gaps that newbies may not even realize are there and to know that Baby Orc Moses will eventually grow up to be a major player named Thrall, and you’ll get an extra chuckle when Khadgar casts a Polymorph spell.  You’ll also notice when the filmmakers are aiming right at you while showing off key game locations that don’t necessarily need to be in the movie.  (Goldshire?  Really?)  And, in the end, you’ll be glad that Blizzard didn’t let Uwe Boll have his way, because against all odds, Warcraft manages not to suck.  Could have and should have been better, to be sure, but still, pretty good.  (Though you will wonder why the hell they hired Ramin Djawadi to score an utterly mediocre soundtrack when they could’ve and should’ve gone with Russell Brower, who’s been making much better music for the “World of Warcraft” games for years.)

And given the early returns from the Chinese box office, Blizzard will get at least one more chance to do better when the inevitable sequel arrives.

Bottom line, if you already play or have played any incarnation of the “Warcraft” video games, Warcraft the movie will be a pleasant surprise despite its flaws.  And if you’re new to this whole thing and/or couldn’t care less about the video games, it’s pretty cool eye candy and a decent enough two-hour sword-and-sorcery fantasy distraction to be worth the trip to the theatre… or the video service, whatever the case may be.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2016

More From The Bar! | Hardcore Henry | Labyrinth | The Last Witch Hunter |

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