The Beasts that Fell to Earth
Warning: This review alludes to elements of the plot. You may wish to go on this quest before reading.
Warcraft: The Beginning, represents a progression for Zowie Bowie, Son of David, sometimes known as Duncan Jones. It’s a move from old school, analogue filmmaking – Moon, to full-scale pixelated world building, by way of Source Code, the mid-budget sci-fi thriller that straddled both traditions. Is this evolution for the ejaculate of Ziggy Stardust? Well, his fantasy movie is technically accomplished, seamlessly integrating digital puppets born of motion capture with their human counterparts, while rendering the world of the game – literally, the source code. It takes you to another place, immerses you, and creates a compelling, if familiar, mythology, redolent of Krull, Lord of the Rings, et all. But what Zowie’s lost in the colourful sprawl is the focus that characterised his previous work. Warcraft’s an enjoyable travelogue, but the lax plotting undoes some of the sound thinking that’s gone into characterisation.
Jones, co-author of the screenplay, had the right idea. He kicks off proceedings by humanising Toby Kebbel’s Orc chieftain, Durotan, giving him both a family and a conscience. He establishes the Orc warrior code, implies a tension between it and the magically corrupted leader of the hoard, Gul’dan, and in doing so signals this will not be a simple good versus evil movie, rather a story interested in the dynamics of both sides with bread and butter stakes. That’s a more interesting tale than the usual binaries presented in these questing flicks, and it’s a promise that sustains much of the movie’s first half.
But Warcraft comes unstuck when trying to forge a strong through line on which to hook its many character arcs. We’re interested in Travis Fimmel’s human warrior for example, and Paula Patton’s Orc captive, who provides a bridge between the two cultures and is pivotal in seeding a potential sequel, but the central invasion plot and the subterfuge behind it, clouds the audience’s brain as it unfolds. It’s all about bad magic, we learn, with the means to talk to characters across the universe, allowing them to collude in an act of an unwanted immigration, but it isn’t clear how this has happened. Perhaps the scenes that made it clear were cut for time. Perhaps they were never filmed. We may never know, but fantasy worlds, like any other, must have internal logic, else the story set therein is soon drained of vitality and strength.
Nevertheless, Warcraft: The Beginning, or just plain old Warcraft as it’s styled at the close, has enough intrigue and human interest to justify both it and any continuation of the series. It’s colourful, eye-catching, and often engaging. Only the unfocused story lets it down, but that’s less a sword to a guts, more a gash across the cheek. You can recover from that, and so, given a chance, could this series.