Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar in Warcraft
The Lord of the Rings movies were to the early 2000s what the Marvel movies are to the present cinematic landscape, a cultural touchstone that seemed to utterly dominate the imaginations of moviegoers. This makes it all the more curious that the appeal of this type of sword and sorcery faded away relatively quickly. There were only a handful of imitators, most of which were forgotten quickly, and Peter Jackson’s prequels based on The Hobbit were financial successes that earned about as much affection as another certain prequel trilogy. Warcraft, based on the popular series of video games, intends to take up where Jackson left off, offering the spectacle of humans doing battle with green-skinned monsters using swords and magic spells, all without requiring the time commitment that Jackson’s over-stuffed epics generally demanded.
Warcraft is directed by Duncan Jones, who made the independent science-fiction success Moon as well as Source Code. He is the son of the late David Bowie who went by the name Zowie Bowie for years, which incidentally would be a terrific name for a character in a film such as this. This fantasy tells the story of a kingdom that is invaded by a horde of orcs that travel through a mystical portal after their own land has been conquered. The humans must do battle with the orcs for supremacy of the kingdom, lest their world be destroyed.
Travis Fimmel, the star of “Vikings,” plays the kingdom’s greatest warrior, while Toby Kebbell of Fantastic Four and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes plays the most sympathetic of the orcs, burnishing his reputation as the go-to actor for the motion-capture performances that Andy Serkis turns down. Paula Patton bridges the two societies as a half-orc/half-human, thus adding to the list of black actresses whom Hollywood has demanded to be painted either green or blue in order to serve as a big-budget romantic lead.
While there is little chance that Warcraft will walk away with over a dozen Academy Awards like the final Lord of the Rings movie did – a movie based on a video game series hardly has the prestige of a J.R.R. Tolkien – this film does improve upon portrayal of the fantastical creatures of Tolkien, who were all nameless, faceless hordes indistinguishable from one another. It feels deeply ironic that the film based on classic literature mows down its monsters like a video game, yet the video game treats its creatures as complex. Much of Warcraft is deeply silly, as most fantasies are, but talented actors like Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer wave their arms and spout magical gibberish with conviction as the human wizards who defend against the orcs.
The video game series on which Warcraft is based traces its lineage back to the days of MS-DOS, which in technological terms seems as archaic as cuneiform tablets. It may not reach the cultural prevalence of The Lord of the Rings, but it should satisfy the fans who have played countless hours chopping down hordes of indistinguishable orcs.
In theaters June 10
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