Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, May 27, 2019


Even though most video game movies have been financial and creative failures, there's a big reason Hollywood keeps trying. Video games are extremely popular! It's a billion dollar industry that has leaked into every facet of many people's lives. Movie studios would obviously like a slice of that considerably large, money-filled pie. Among the most profitable video game franchises of all time is Blizzard's “Warcraft” series. This is mostly thanks to the MMORPG spin-off, “World of Warcraft,” which was an inescapable pop culture phenomenon at the end of the last decade. Unsurprisingly, development on a “Warcraft” movie began around that time. Groomed as a Sam Raimi project for many years, “Warcraft” would ultimately be directed by Duncan Jones. Jones accepted the gig because he's apparently a big fan of the source material.

I've never played a “Warcraft” game, though it seems like all my friends have. As a novice to this world, I'll do my best to summarize the plot of the “Warcraft” movie. The orc home world is dying. A warlock named Gul'dan uses an unpredictable and corrupting force known as fel magic to open a portal to Azeroth, a world inhabited by humans, elves, and dwarfs. The orcs immediately come into conflict with the Kingdom of Stormwind. Military leader Lothar and mage Khadgar, and a captured half-orc named Garona, investigate this fel magic on behalf of King Wrynn. An orc clan leader, Durotan, sees fel magic for the evil it is and attempts to forge an alliance with the humans but faces resistance from his own race.

Whether or not you enjoy “Warcraft” seems to depend on how familiar you are with the source material. To quote a wise sage, “Warcraft” is some deep nerd shit. To somebody like myself, who is totally unfamiliar with the “Warcraft” games and all its associated lore, the movie is frequently incomprehensible. No attempt is made to dumb this shit down, so get use to hearing weird words, names, concepts, and rituals thrown around with few attempts to explain. The film rushes headlong into this stuff and never ever looks back. Yet as committed as “Warcraft” is to its incredibly geeky mythology, the film's storytelling is also extremely awkward at times. Characters are led to plot points by strange forces, enter into magical dimensions where celebrity cameos explain stuff, or just flat-out tell each other their histories. Is it possible to make a video game adaptation that isn't weighed down by heavy-handed exposition?

Granted, “Warcraft” does have quite a few things in its favor. First off, it's a very pretty movie. The worlds are very immersive. Jones' camera performs several sweeping aerial shoots, diving inside the elaborate castles and worlds of Azeroth. There's definitely a lot of weird, interesting shit in this setting. Such as a griffin casually being used as a steed, a floating city of magical monks, or walls of sparkling lightning. The special effects are also generally impressive. While many of the characters are entirely CGI, you can tell a clever combination of computer graphics and practical make-up, props, and effects were utilized as well. From a visual level, “Warcraft” does everything it can to make its weird world interesting.

In fact, I even found the plight of the orcs mildly interesting. Apparently when Raimi was set to make the film, it was going to be a simple “good humans vs. evil orcs” story. Jones rewrote the script to add more gray to both races. Neither human nor orc are inherently bad, both being manipulated by the evil Fel magic. (Whatever the hell that is...) There's something to be said for Durotan's character arc. He's a proud warrior but he also loves his people more than he loves victory, turning against the other orcs because he recognizes how dangerous the Fel is. The war-like orcs are governed by ritual, their culture striking a viewer as complex and fully formed. I also found Garona, an outcast who finds herself accepted among the humans, had potential as well. She ends the film following a pretty juicy plot twist.

At least the orcs have some sort of personality. (Even though the actors, which include Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu, are totally covered up and have all their voices distorted into deep growls.) The human cast of “Warcraft” is a complete snore. The actors are completely unable to find any humanity or personality among the strictly plot-driven characters. Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar gets it the worst, as he gets the film's most impossible dialogue. Travis Fimmel and Dominic Cooper both seem totally uncertain how to play the material. Even the action scenes aren't that interesting. There's a lot of stabbing and killing happening on the battlefields but none of it is especially memorable.

“Warcraft” was released in some territories with the subtitle “The Beginning.” This is apparently because the film takes place before the popular “World of Warcraft” story line, as the final scene introduces that game's main character. Also, of course, the studio was hoping it would launch a franchise. In the U.S., “Warcraft” grossed a paltry 47 million. Which makes sense, as the brand wasn't the cultural force it once was over here by 2016. Overseas, the film did much better. In China, where “World of Warcraft” is still massively popular, the movie broke several records. Despite earning a global total around 433 million – easily making it the highest grossing video game movie internationally – “Warcraft” still didn't perform as hoped. Thus, no sequel is forthcoming, much to Duncan Jones' disappointment. Considering the film played as nothing but empty spectacle for anyone unfamiliar with its convoluted lore, it's hard to consider this much of a loss. [5/10]

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