'Warcraft'? More Like 'Snore-craft' or 'Bore-craft'

Whatever intrigue the source contains is diluted by a desire to pander to an eager international demo.


Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Universal
Year: 2016
US date: 2016-06-10 (General release)
UK date: 2016-06-10 (General release)

Warcraft is destined to become a 2016 talking point, but not for the reasons you think. This first installment in a planned series, based on a hugely popular video game, is going to tank in America. The domestic box office will be an embarrassment, though director Duncan Jones won't be an instant casualty. It will be fans from the other parts of the world that send this cinematic dreg into the stratosphere, mandating sequels the send-off already anticipates while proving once and for all that it's the international film market that dictates what Hollywood makes, domestic audiences be damned.

It makes sense. There are, at most, 400 million possible fans of the franchise in the US. Add in a few hundred million more for the rest of the Americas and you've got a drop in the box office bucket. China is already making the movie a monster hit -- it's earned almost $100 million in two days. The rest of the continent will easily push it over into the billionaire's club, where it will join other washouts like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and a couple of those terrible Transformers films. So when Warcraft 2 arrives in a few years, you'll know why. It's the same reason James Cameron is planning four more new Avatar films in the near future.

Warcraft can best be called Tolkien lite. It takes everything we loved about the Lord of the Rings films, funnels them through a fountain of fantasy folklore, and then confuses everything with the game's necessary recognitions. If you are a World of Warcraft fan, you'll find most of this fun and entertaining. You'll nod at recognizable references and wonder when the next piece of eye candy will be delivered. Sadly, there's a sameness to the look, something driven by the source itself. There's also a familiarity in both plot and personality that turns a potentially intriguing tentpole into a CGI-sore.

The main narrative thread is one of invasion and survival. Draenor is the homeworld of the Orc clans, and it's dying. It's leader, Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), promises a better life beyond the portals, but there's a problem. In order to teleport, the spirits of dead humans must be used... or something along those lines, it's all so convoluted. Anyway, the target is Azeroth, and even with some of the clan leaders reluctant to invade -- including Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and the half-human Garona (Paula Patton in some horrible fangs) -- they execute their plan.

Naturally, things don't go well, new allegiances are drawn up and alliances forged. This is especially true of Sir Anduin Lothar, who must serve the will of his King (Dominic Cooper) and decide how to battle this new foe, their "fel" magic, and the various confusing fight sequences that make up this movie's seemingly elephantine run time.

For those who recall the hour long siege at the end of Return of the King, the one where Peter Jackson and his magicians proved their ability to keep millions of computerized cogs whirring toward an Oscar winning end, get ready. Warcraft sees that manipulative mayhem and raises you a ridiculous amount of muddle. The plot may be obvious to someone whose spent the better part of the life in a basement going RPG on their keyboard, but for the casual fan, this is faux fantasy at its most mediocre. It's bombast without the basics of heart or humor. It's meant to mean something, but all it does is meander into a total mess.

Jones is really not at fault here. He's given the task of turning a game with multiple characters, multiple levels, multiple play possibilities, and just as many goals and make it into a single story, all while delivering the simplistic spectacle that drives butts into those theater seats. In that he succeeds. He doesn't do a particularly bad job with the film, and he does make the experience as immersive as possible. But just like that friend who insists upon telling you every detail of a complicated story in a dull monotone, this movie makes the epic seem stilted.

The actors are also forgiven -- mostly. Many are performing via motion capture or via a costly combination of physical and digital effects. The dialogue is derivative, with a whole lot of "quests" and "spells" being bandied about like they matter. In fact, with so much of the movie rendered on a motherboard, it's hard not to think of it as all animated. Avatar did something similar, but it succeeded because it was a novelty. It also had James Cameron calling the shots.

The biggest problem here is the source material. It's too dense, overwritten and under explained. It's like being dropped in the middle of a foreign land without a guidebook, a working knowledge of the language, or a concept of the customs. We are supposed to gradually get up to speed but nothing here resonates. Warcraft has all the wiz-bang visuals, however, and for that it will be generously rewarded.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.