Monday, 12 September 2016

"I've led thousands of warriors into battle, but I fear being a father. Does that make me a leader, or a coward?"

Rather than leaping straight from a feted debut to a major studio tentpole, Duncan Jones took the cannier route of following his minimalist Moon (2009) with the complex Source Code (2011).

But that slow path wouldn't necessarily prepare anyone for the challenge of tackling this franchise seeding video game adaptation. Tasked with brokering a peace between event sized thrills, gaming lore and high fantasy, Jones embraces the world of The World Of Warcraft with laudable commitment – but when it comes to charging it with life, sheer bulk gets the better of him.

The road to Azeroth begins distinctly enough, with Jones and Bill Westenhofer's digital effects team at Rhythm And Hues Studios forging a complex orc society. Where Middle-earth's orc hordes merely drooled, great warrior Durotan (Toby Kebbell) engages in bedtime banter with his pregnant wife, his eyes emoting with a staggering level of detail. These hefty and heartily characterised performance capture orcs stand tall among many mighty and mightily detailed computer generated achievements, particularly in the cases of Durotan and Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), a warlock who uses soul-sucking magic to punch open a portal into the human world of Azeroth.

But plot problems kick in early, as the orcs' reasons for invading Azeroth (their own world is dying) are skipped over and their human counterparts struggle to make orc sized impressions. Despite Travis Fimmel's (Vikings) restrained twinkle, the stoic Commander Anduin Lothar lacks any affable charm or charisma, while Ben Foster (3:10 To Yuma) tosses off all restraints as Medivh, the fading sorcerer dabbling in dark magic. Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), meanwhile, impresses as the tough talking half-human, half-orc warrior Garona, though her prosthetic dentistry plays havoc with the dialogue and her traumatic history remains frustratingly opaque.

All three at least try to imbue the familiar fantasy hokum of spells and speechifying with character, but the need to build Warcraft's world stifles certain vitals – drive, levity, audience investment. While Ramin Djawadi's (Game Of Thrines) hefty score and Jones' gryphon's-eye shots of swarming battle sequences stir the blood, the brutish fights themselves are over all too swiftly, sometimes effectively, sometimes with fun sapping brevity. Hammer, head, game over.

Some shock deaths show narrative daring, but it is hard to get that involved when the two hour runtime is too crammed to let in any emotional air. Lacking the longer form luxuries of Game Of Thrones, Warcraft: The Beginning manages to feel both rushed and dull, impressively staged and disengaged. True, a few quips in the abyss help to alleviate the lumbering piece. But there aren't enough leavening influences on show, beyond Ben Schnetzer's (Pride) endearingly flummoxed trainee wizard, a few fan pleasing Easter eggs and a nifty, snarling end tease for a sequel.

If the likelihood of Warcraft: The Beginning netting the returns for that second bout are debatable, what is more certain is that it feels incomplete in itself. While Jones' ambition is admirable, Warcraft: The Beginning ultimately feels empty and impenetrable. If this truly is the beginning, hopefully the next chapter will remember to deliver the fun too.

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