Never have I felt more like an outsider than when I sat down for Warcraft. This is a movie so in tune with its video game roots that you could hack away at it with a machete and its trunk would probably disintegrate into pixels. It is a self-contained ecosystem, without beginning or end, and is inhabited purely by students of its teachings. For us mortals who have never played the game, Warcraft can be a truly disorienting experience.
The plot revolves around humans and orcs, and a giant portal that links their worlds together. Through the portal the orcs charge, breeding violence and desperation, and the humans prepare for a war they’re never going to win. It’s a story set in a fantasy video game realm, told by video game characters, and while it’s superbly crafted, it lacks the worldly sensibility to inform us all of its in-jokes and references, because let’s face it, the entire movie is one esoteric in-joke. You either get it or you don’t.
Proper names and locations zip over our heads like arrows in the dark. We’re not really sure who’s who, where’s where, or why anyone is doing what they’re doing. All we know is that orcs have come, and they’re angry. They want land it seems. The humans are caught off-guard, are ill-prepared, and seem at a loss on how to defend themselves. They could deploy their wizards, I suppose, who are very good at opening portals and whatnot, but I suspect they’re like the eagles in the Lord Of The Rings movies – use them too much and it won’t be a fight.
The humans are thinly drawn, like the filigree of their armour. They exist only as a visual and ideological counterpoint to the orcs, who are far more interesting and dynamic. The orcs’ great hero, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), believes they are headed for disaster, and tries to establish a coup against the tyrannical Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), from whose back protrude ghastly horns of bone and whose piercing eyes breathe flames of green.
The orcs are portrayed as romantics; their cause is just and righteous. Their women are strong and they value their offspring. They also look thoroughly intimidating, with biceps the size of small buses and pecks that could crush coconuts. What I don’t get though, are their lower incisors, which jut out over their top lips and threaten to impale their nostrils. What practical purpose could these reverse fangs possibly have? They’d make kissing about as elegant as two rams during mating season.
No matter. The orcs are what make Warcraft fun to watch, even if it’s in a mindless sort of fashion. The humans are forgettable. The landscapes are too foreign to appreciate. The entire mythos the movie constructs itself around sinks beneath its own feet into a puddle of elitist fandom.
The movie is directed by Duncan Jones, whose great Moon (2009) also dealt with invasion of personal space. It was science-fiction drama rooted in the deep fundamentals of the human condition. It was a smart, thoughtful film, carried by a powerful solo performance. Warcraft is neither smart nor thoughtful, and suffers from overcrowding. There’s too much going on and not enough guidance. It’s what happens when studios prematurely thrust talented visionary directors into the fanboy mainstream. They lose all sense of identity. How many fans of this film will also seek out Moon? Not many, I suspect. But there you have it.