Warcraft: The Beginning


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Duncan Jones is a really good director. His debut film Moon was just brilliant; a smart Sci-Fi classic that deserves to be revered alongside, and possible even over, films like 2001, Silent Running and Blade Runner. His follow up Source Code was also excellent, rivalling Christopher Nolan in the way it demonstrated how action and clever writing can work in unison. Now he is giving us Warcraft: The Beginning. (Has any other film title courted sequels so unsubtly?) On paper Warcraft is not like Jones’ previous work. Whereas they were insightful, philosophical pieces on the nature of humanity in an increasingly technological world, this is a computer game adaptation where orcs and men smash each other with axes and hammers. In theory Jones should be able to lift the story above its geeky genre roots but big budgets and studio expectations have confounded and stifled many other up and coming film makers before.
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Well, I will say this: this film could have been so much blander and dumber in someone else’s hands. It is still a big orc movie though. It is still going to be mostly favoured by people who play with hexagonal dice and paint little pewter figures. 

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Please don’t think I am being critical of anyone’s hobbies, I have my own nerd passions, but this film is not going to find universal appeal outside of the sword and sorcery community in the same way other properties have. Warcraft is to Lord of the Rings as Deep Blue Sea is to Jaws. It is to Game of Thrones as Short Circuit is to The Terminator. It is to Harry Potter as Avatar is to Plan 9 From Outer Space. You get the idea.

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What Warcraft is so badly missing is the elaborate storytelling and strong characterisation but what Jones has given it is a certain matter of factness. By this I mean in that everything in this land of magic and monsters is just there, it’s just how it is. There is no ponderous exposition, no pseudo mythical set up, no gentle build up to familiarise the audience with this world, it is all just the way these humans, these orcs and these dwarves exist. Pick it up and go with it movie goers. Similarly the orcs are just regular guys. They might look like hairless gruffaloes but they talk and joke like normal people. These are not the moronic, animalistic beasts we’ve seen before. That’s just how they role. All of this makes the world of Warcraft both new but instantly familiar. One dude rides a griffin, okay we’re cool with that. Another guy is building a golum with the same nonchalance as you might bake a cake, no problem. We’ve seen this stuff before, there’s no need to spell it out. Duncan Jones is smart, he knows we can handle it. 

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Having had this efficient introduction you are able to engage in the action quickly but I’m not sure the events of the film are particularly worth following. To be honest I wasn’t always sure what was going on, not because it is particularly complicated but because I wasn’t really interested. There’s some guff about a magical portal that allows those who generate it to travel between parallel worlds or different dimensions or across space and time or something. There are bad orcs, who have used the portal too much causing irreversible environmental damage, and good orcs who are slowly realising this. There is a female orc who looks a lot like us only with green skin, Spock ears and an underbite. 

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This is clearly doing the same thing they did with Aiden Turner’s dwarf in The Hobbit where you have one just member of the mythical race who, for reasons unexplained, doesn’t look as much like Spitting Image puppet as all the others. This way you can have an inter-species romance between them and your conventionally human lead without grossing out the audience.

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There is an older wizard off his game (like Saraman), there is a kid with emerging powers of his own (like Luke Skywalker), there is a noble King who looks totally bewildered for most of the time and lots of big medieval battle scenes. 

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It’s all been done better before but it’s fine. You might enjoy it, you might not. Roll the dice.


The Ripley Factor:
To analyse the gender politics in this film is to engage with it more than I feel I want to. There is a proud, headstrong and dignified queen but she is marginalised, the humanistic lady orc spends some time in an animal hide bikini but is a formidable warrior, it’s fine. It isn’t sexist but neither is it particularly feminist. Can we please talk about a different movie now?

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Is this one for the kids?
Older kids, yes. The film is rated 12A and has the normal levels of fantasy violence for that certificate. People are bludgeoned, stabbed and sliced but it’s all pretty bloodless. I’m sure some portions of the audience would have preferred it to have had some of the gore and violence of the fantasy films of the 80s like Conan and Beastmaster. Not me, I don’t really care.

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