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Saturday, 6 August 2016

Warcraft (2016)

I had been hoping to review Suicide Squad. Believe me, this is no more pleasant for me than it is for you.


It feels like this film has been in production for ages. There was talk circling of a Warcraft or World of Warcraft film from pretty much the moment World of Warcraft became popular, but it took ages for it to actually be made and released. It's baffling, in a way, that after so long spent on it this film is still this bad. 

Adapting the events of the very first Warcraft game, Warcraft follows two sides of a war between orcs and humans: On the orc side, Durotan, chief of the Frostwolf Clan, joins an invasion force into the world of Azeroth, led by warchief Blackhand, a puppet of the sinister orc warlock, Gul'dan, who wields a kind of death magic known as the Fel, allowing him to drain the life from people around him to fuel his magic. As Durotan becomes convinced that the Fel kills the world around it and was responsible for the death of the orcs' homeworld, Draenor, he sets out to betray and kill Gul'dan. On the human side, Anduin Lothar, military commander of the forces of Stormwind, ends up allied with a young mage, Khadgar, and a half-orc, Garona, as he seeks out Medivh, the reclusive Guardian, for help in saving Stormwind. As the Anduin and his forces seek to push back the orc invasion, it swiftly becomes apparent that something is very wrong with Medivh.

When I say 'swiftly', I mean that the film basically drops its big plot twist - that Medivh opened the portal that let the orcs through - into your lap some thirty minutes in. The characters continue to treat this as a mystery for about half an hour more, which is a strange thing to watch when you've just seen them literally say that they know Medivh opened the gate.

This is not how either sexual dimorphism or hybrids work, incidentally, so
no, this is just sexism at work.

It also makes some later scenes make very little sense. In one scene, Medivh creates a wall of lightning to allow the Stormwind troops, but Anduin's son is trapped on the other side of the wall - the scene has Anduin scream for Medivh to take the wall down and let him through, and be genuinely stunned when Medivh doesn't, despite him knowing at this point that Medivh can't be trusted. Worse, it becomes clear that he never mentions to the king that Medivh opened the portal, and the one time he does bring up the fact that Medivh isn't trustworthy, it's just to say that his magic has been unreliable lately (which is weird, since it hadn't been, at all - he pulled off every spell he cast without a hitch).

Another big problem with the film is the lead actor, Travis Fimmel, playing Anduin. I've never seen Fimmel in anything before, so I'm just assuming at this point that he's always a terrible actor: He plays Anduin as if he's never entirely sure what's going on around him, and as if he doesn't ever quite understand the lines he's been given. In the early parts of the film, I thought he might be going for 'sinister,' as he delivers all of his lines in a high-pitch, off-kilter monotone, but as the film wore on, it became clear that he wasn't. There are shades of The Room to his performance: I was half expecting him to go "Oh, hi, Medivh," in the middle of a dramatic monologue or something.

Kirin Tor looks nice.

But that's not to say that a competent leading man or a basic understanding of plot structure could have saved this film, because it couldn't. There are things to like here, granted: The CGI is very pretty and, er, the -- no, actually, it's just the CGI, that is the only thing to like about this film. Other than that, though, every part of it is rotten, betraying it as not only being a cynical cash grab, but a cynical cash grab without any competence behind it.

In a way, though, it is a startlingly faithful adaptation. With the exception of fel magic being expanded as a plot point into capital-F the Fel, the film is about as close to an exact adaptation of the game it's based on as the writers could get it, and therein lies another of its big problems - and, handily, a case study for why exact adaptations often don't work, despite what fans of the source material may want.

"You are tearing me apart!" - Anduin Lothar, probably.

In this case, we see that the writers struggled to adapt the video game's plot into something that works coherently as a one-hour-forty-minute film - after all, the game's plot is both much longer and broken up by gameplay segments. As a result, we end up with a film with a nearly incoherent plotline - plot elements are introduced and then quickly forgot about, minor subplots are stretched and strained to cover parts of the film where the main plot was spread too thin, and important features of the game's plotline (like how Medivh is possessed by Sargeras) are left out altogether (Medivh is referred to as being possessed, but the film never goes into why or by what).

This was a pretty dire film, and having been a tremendous financial disappointment, it seems unlikely that we'll see a sequel - the film is very clearly set up for one, but it's unlikely that it'll materialise. It's baffling, because there are Warcraft games that would work pretty well if they were adapted into, say, television shows: A Warcraft III TV show ala Game of Thrones, anyone?

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