Video game adaptations in the movies are a strange beast. The nineties brought us the likes of Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon and Streetfighter. With the turn of the century came the cinematic genius that was Uwe Boll with the one-two punch of House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark which, ten years after their respective releases, still reside in the top half of the IMDB Bottom 100. Expectations are not high. In fact it’s hard to think of a single legitimately good computer game adaptation. So now comes perhaps the most hotly anticipated one of them all, Warcraft, and its success will very much depend on the individual viewers’ knowledge of the lore and mythology of the game.
The film begins in the Orc populated world of Draenor where the use of a dark magic by the evil orc overlord Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) has destroyed their home world. To survive, they enter a portal which takes them into the land inhabited by man, Azeroth, which they immediately start pillaging and kidnapping the inhabitants of to feed their portal which requires souls to stay open. The story becomes primarily focused on the good orc Durotan (Toby Kebbell) who becomes sceptical of Gul’dan’s leadership of his people, and Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the commander of the people’s Alliance, who is placed in charge of defeating the invaders. The plot advances through a labyrinth of mythology which will be a treat for fans, but those with no familiarity will most likely be left cold and confused.
Directed and co-written by Duncan Jones, who established himself as one of the most interesting talents of his generation with the highly original, mind bending awesomeness of Moon and then followed it up with the equally good Source Code, makes his first foray into big budget, franchise filmmaking, and the results are a mixed bag. He retains a strong visual sense and the CGI is well rendered, particularly in the creation of the major characters of the Orcs. His ability to engage an audience with complex storytelling, however, isn’t as successful. But in fairness, it doesn’t seem to be a priority for him, and even if you don’t know what’s happening in the story overall, you’ll probably have a basic idea of who’s against who and why. If in doubt the rule ‘blue magic = good, green magic = bad” should suffice.
The films is anchored by rising star Travis Fimmel, of Vikings fame, who is an instantly engaging screen presence in the mould of a young Clint Eastwood from the Dollars films; he doesn’t do much but he does it well. It’s hard to tell how much of Durotan is CGI and how much is actor Toby Kebbell, but it’s a great character and by far the most interesting part of the film.
It’s far from the nadir of Uwe Boll and Super Mario, but to call Warcraft perhaps the best computer game adaptation so far is extremely faint praise. Fans of the series will find a lot to like here, but newcomers might do best to avoid it.
Warcraft is in cinemas from 16th June through Universal Pictures.