You can tell there is a lot of heart and effort that went into the making of “Warcraft,” which makes its artistic failure as a would-be fantasy epic all the more depressing. Hackneyed and cliched, it tries to rise to level of the “Lord of the Rings” films but never quite gets off the ground. That it was co-written and directed by the talented Duncan Jones (“Moon,” “Source Code”) only adds to the frustration when sitting through it.
Based on one of the best-selling video game series of the past twenty-odd years, it’s a prequel of sorts, consisting of a simplistic story crammed full of boring exposition and mostly uninteresting characters. The plot, to use the term loosely, is a first-contact story detailing the arrival of the brutish orcs on the world of Azeroth via a portal opened with black magic called the Fell by the warlock Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu).
The orcs have fled their dying world, oblivious to the fact that the Fell consumed its life force and has slowly corrupted them. One chieftain, Durotan (Tony Kebbell), suspects the truth, and seeks a way out for at least some of his people.
Meanwhile, King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper, Preacher) and soldier Anduin Lothar (Travis Flimmel, Vikings) flit back and forth between their realms and their castle as they fret over what to do; rookie wizard/bargain bin Luke Skywalker analog Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) investigates the source of power behind the orcs; enigmatic sorcerer Medivh (Ben Foster rocking a slightly Christ-like beard and some snazzy robes) hangs around looking stoned; and half-orc Garona (Paula Patton) proves that Kermit the Frog was right and that it really isn’t easy being green.
“Warcraft” is a very busy movie that spends a lot of time flitting around but going absolutely nowhere, in a constant rush as if to distract us from the fact that it’s a sprawling story a mile wide but only an inch deep. The only time it perks up is when the orcs are onscreen, specifically when the focus is on Durotan’s story; there’s some genuine drama and compelling storytelling to be had there, but alas it falls into self-seriousness sealed with a clunky and ill-conceived Moses analogy (seriously).
The movie also suffers from inconsistent pacing and surprisingly sloppy production. There are some clunky edits (most likely made to avoid an R rating) and the effects are often generic and even shoddy and unconvincing. There are times when one is left wondering if exteriors were actually shot on location or on a soundstage in front of a green screen and just badly lit.
Warcraft’s biggest sin, however, is one that filmmakers should know to avoid by now: Focus on the movie you are making, not on setting up the sequel you haven’t earned. Have we learned nothing from “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” or “Terminator: Genisys”?