Review: WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING (2016) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 12 June 2016



When orc shaman Gul'dan (voiced by Daniel Wu) opens a portal from his dying planet, he mobilises his clan to invade the peaceful world of Azeroth. In order to stop more orcs from crossing through the portal, King Llane (Dominic Cooper) enlists his trusted army commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel, of TV's Vikings) to summon the reclusive wizard Medivh a.k.a. The Guardian (Ben Foster) with the help of a young mage, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer).

REVIEW: 10 years. That was the length of time it took to get the long-gestating WARCRAFT movie finally materialised on the big screen. Once a passion project by Sam Raimi six years ago before he left over creative differences, WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING fell into the seemingly good hands of Duncan Jones instead. After all, Jones is a bright young talent known for his two acclaimed sci-fi movies, MOON (2009) and SOURCE CODE (2011). With WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING, this movie marks his first attempt handling a big-budget studio picture based on a widely-known property loved by many gamers around the world. Reportedly cost at US$160 million to make, it was certainly a huge gamble for both Legendary Pictures and Blizzard Entertainment. But with Jones putting in charge to steer the course of the movie, it looks as if WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING may finally break the curse of video game movies, which has been plaguing so many big screen fiascos from SUPER MARIO BROS since the dawn of its genre in the early '90s to the recent disappointment of HITMAN: AGENT 47 in 2015.

Personally, I really enjoyed both movies made by Jones in the past. But unfortunately, WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING is entirely a different story altogether. I'm not sure whether this is a major fault from studio interference or Jones got too overwhelmed from undertaking such a massive project for the first time in his directing career. What I saw here during the IMAX 3D screening presentation was unbelievably bad.

So, before I get to the various points on what goes wrong in WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING, here's what I like about this movie: The meticulous motion-capture animation of the towering orcs of Horde, courtesy by Industrial Light & Magic, are both spot-on and visually impressive. Ramin Djawadi's majestic score, in the meantime, has that rousing quality which fits an epic fantasy like WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING. The special effects, as well as the colourful yet expansive set design, are decent enough while some of Simon Duggan's overhead shots of his camerawork does evoke the feel of a Warcraft game. Jones does show some flair in handling big effect-laden action sequences between the orcs and the humans.

Now, for an epic fantasy filled with lots of characters and plenty of world-building, I was surprised to see WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING is condensed at two-hour long where everything is rushed from one story to another. While I understand this might not be a problem for those who played the game before, it is especially hard to follow for a non-fan like me. Of course, there is always a movie that designed "strictly for die-hard fans only" which I think it applies well in WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING.

But viewing this from the general movie perspective, Jones and Charles Leavitt's overall screenplay feels choppy and vague. This is especially true, given the fact that Jones' original director's cut was reportedly cut by 40 minutes. In fact, from the beginning of the movie itself, it is already evident the theatrical cut ruins the proper flow and essence of the storyline. Although we do learn that the planet inhabited by the orcs is dying and they need to conquer another planet for the sake of survival, the prologue is as sketchily told as it gets without bothering to establish the setting as well as the backstory surrounding some of the important orc characters such as Toby Kebbell's Durotan and Daniel Wu's Gul'dan.

On top of that, for a movie that carries an obvious subtitle of "The Beginning", it would be appropriate if the story is invested more in telling the origins between the orcs and the human side. Instead, WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING feels like a movie smacked in the middle of a trilogy where the story is more interested in showcasing the physical battles between the orcs and the humans. Such approach might works if the origin story is properly addressed, but too bad WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING isn't one of them.

Other glaring weaknesses here are the multiple plot threads that barely scratches the surface. For instance, the would-be love story between Lothar and half-human/half-orc female warrior Garona (Paula Patton) feels forced. Then there's the half-hearted transition where Ben Foster's Medivh becomes a shady character at some point in the movie. Even the overall characters are mostly shallow and lack sufficient development to get to know them better.

Whether or not Jones' original director's cut actually make a huge difference still remains to be seen, but as of now, the theatrical version of WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING is an epic failure which could have been better if done right.

A colossal misfire where competent visuals and colourful fantasy elements alone isn't enough to offset WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING from its mediocre storyline and weak characters.

* This review is written courtesy from United International Pictures (UIP) Malaysia IMAX 3D press screening *

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