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Warcraft

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jun 8, 2016
'Warcraft'
'Warcraft'  

"Moon" and "Source Code" director Duncan Jones has earned a reputation for intelligent speculative fiction. He brings that same thoughtfulness to the fantasy epic "Warcraft," which serves as a kind of prequel to the video games, but even Jones can't pull the story out of the " 'Lord of the Rings' Lite" quagmire in which the project seems to have been hatched.

The story's basic premise is yawn-inducing from the start: Humans, orcs, war. The story's driving engines -- a magical portal that brings the nasty warrior orcs from their moribund universe into a new world called Azeroth; the ambition and political strife that keeps humanity suicidally divided even in the face of a common enemy, like Berners and Hillaryites refusing to coalesce into an effective force even in the face of Donald Trump; the mixture of hubris and weakness that leads to a crucial betrayal -- are rote and well past the point of being threadbare. Even the CGI trappings that tart up virtually every frame of the film induce more shrugs than gasps of admiration. (It would help if the CGI cityscapes and creatures -- dwarves and elves among them -- didn't look as though they had dropped in from the video game version just to check out the fun.)

But there is one element of the movie that gives it some kick: Much of the film is told, sympathetically enough, from the orcs' perspective. The movie starts on their side of the portal, as an invading force of orcs prepare to leave their home universe for Azeroth. A smart, even compassionate, chieftain with the pharmaceuticals-worthy name Durotan (Toby Kebbell) canoodles affectionately with his pregnant wife Draka (Anna Galvin) the night before the horde depart; she convinces him to take her along, but the passage through the dimensional gateway induces labor and their son is born as soon as they reach Earth. (Evidently, we have to wait for whatever sequel might be coming along to find out why this matters.)

It's only after we get to know Durotan that we meet the human characters, and by then we've come to understand the orcs' point of view. They're not soulless or psychopathic; they're driven as much by ecological desperation as by a warrior ethos. They're still the enemy, but they're an enemy we can understand and even identify with.

Moreover, it's Durotan who first grasps what no one else seems to see: That the use of a toxic magic called the Fel -- the same magic that opens the portal and makes the orcs' supreme commander, a baddie called Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) invincible -- is the same thing that has killed the orcs' home universe. It's like fracking chemicals, pesticides, and PCBs all rolled into one bundle of superfund enchantment. Of course -- and this is the thing that really bothers Durotan -- its use on Earth against human defenders has the same effect on the environment as it did back home. What is the point of gaining a new homeland through hard-fought conquest, only to see that homeland wither and perish as a result?

While Durotan works to foment rebellion in the ranks of the orcs, the human king Lane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) marshals forces of his own, including Lother (Travis Fimmel), the leader of Azeroth's army; a young mage called Khadgar Ben Schnetzer); and the Guardian of the realm, a powerful warlock called Medivh (Ben Foster). Unable to pull together a coalition of the different races to defend Azeroth, the humans mount their own offensive, with the help of a tough, beautiful half-Orc woman named Garona (Paula Patton). Cross-species romance, fever-pitch battles, and devastating sacrifices ensue, as do high school-level bullying (the military guys belittle and dismiss the bookish mage -- until, that is, they learn his worth) and requisite story twists designed to shock. (They don't, mostly because they are so predictable.)

If the unexpected humanity, if you will, of Durotan engages your interest, the kick-ass heroine Garona helps keep it stoked. But as the movie grinds along its well-worn narrative paths, tedium sets in all the same. That's where the "lite" quality of the film's second-rate "Lord of the Rings" stylings really proves a drawback: The film literally lacks the gravitas to sustain interest for the duration of its two-hour running time. By the time the credit roll, you feel as though you've just watched half a season of some sort of bargain basement fantasy-action cable series. Call it "Game of Drones."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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