'Warcraft' review: Overburdened fantasy
In JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth, orcs are nothing more than foot soldiers that are too willing to do whatever their evil overlord bids them to do. Their existence serves no other purpose than to wreak havoc in the world.
When pop culture took over Tolkien's creations, orcs were given semblances of character and culture into creatures that were nothing more than literary symbols of the mindless destruction brought about by greed.
They became mainstays in role-playing games, with players being granted the capability to build their own fantasies around creatures like elves and dwarves by means of a pen, paper and a whole lot of imagination.
Video games then took over, and the added visual component to the world of fantasy gaming pushed the orcs further into the spotlight, making the race of strong but vastly bizarre-looking giants an eccentric choice to represent the gamer.
Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft, a real-time strategy game that pitted orcs against humans, has one clever conceit. It allowed the gamer to choose a faction to control, giving him the control to command the armies, as well as a perspective in whatever lore and civilization there is in the game for either factions.
Instead of following a pre-existing story that most role-playing games possess, Warcraft has one primary goal for the gamer, which is to completely eliminate the opposing faction. This forces the gamer to imbibe whatever faction he chooses in order to win – whether or not they be the humans that look exactly like him or the orcs that were probably once part of his scariest nightmares.
From game to film
Given that Warcraft has spawned sequels and spin-offs, it is inevitable that a film version will get made, and at the helm is Duncan Jones, the director of the satisfyingly cerebral space-set mystery Moon (2009) and the fun but smart time-loop flick Source Code (2011). With him, there is a clear effort to pull away from the witless routine of most game to film adaptations.
Jones and co-screenwriter Charles Leavitt acknowledge that an immense part of the charm of the video game that they are adapting is the empathy that it gives the orcs. Given this, Warcraft attempts to provide a complete portrait of the land it reimagines in the big screen by providing a story that overlaps between the two warring races. The film portrays both of them as victims of a bigger evil that is gloomily referred to as The Fell.
The film's struggle, however, is to balance the narrative, especially with its numerous characters. Sadly, this is where Jones fails.
Warcraft's awfully curated collection of uncharismatic, humorless and archetypal characters is only symptomatic of the film's very own confusion with what it wants to do. The film seeks to please the fans of the game, yet it also wants to establish its very own franchise of films, with this one being the first of what it hopes to be a whole series.
In its push to retain its nagging umbilical cord with the popular video game, it supplies its derivative narrative with various obscure and illogical references, which would prove to be a stretch for those uninitiated with the game's universe to understand.
The result is a film that is overburdened by unnecessary details that unfortunately do nothing to expand the world or to turn its key inhabitants into characters that are worth rooting for. They are just ornaments to appease fans.
Immigration not invasion
But despite its numerous problems, Jones' Warcraft film is littered with interesting ideas.
Instead of turning itself into a predictable invasion story where the only quest for the heroes is to prevent their lands from being taken over by savages, it reshapes an all too familiar narrative into one that is a tad more sophisticated. Perhaps, it is even relevant in this day and age when nations are concerned with issues about borders and refugees. Of course, this is all due to the fact that the film does not make the mistake of preferring one faction over the other.
In that sense, the Warcraft film – with its story of mostly tolerant humans protecting their villages and towns from desperate foreigners with exotic customs – is akin to the Westerns where heroic cowboys ride the prairies to defend their homesteads from so-called "savages."
Jones' film has sprinklings of everything. It has the subtle moral ambiguity of the humans positioning themselves amidst the onslaught of needy but warmongering orcs. It even hints of interspecies relationships. It has sidestories of camaraderie and heroics in the face of death albeit without the charm, the scope, and the defying romance.
However, all these are drowned by the artificial gloss and digital spectacle. They are buried by the miserable performances of Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster and Dominic Cooper – all playing humans who have less than half the emotional resonance of their computer-generated counterparts.
The film is all too eager to keep itself dumb. It prevents itself from exploring the exciting repercussions of molding a universe that is opening itself to a conflict that resembles one of our own.
Warcraft is defeated by its own unevolving video game mentality. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.