One of the appealing elements to Blizzard’s immensely popular and longstanding MMORPG World of Warcraft – brought to life on the silver screen in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft: The Beginning – is the ability to choose a side. Rather than take the expected route and merely assume control of a human character, you can also be the opposing side and play as an orc. This impartiality serves the game well, but with a piece of cinema, reliant on an emotional investment from the viewer to tick, to not take a side and to blur the line between good and evil so prominently is to the film’s detriment, as you enter into a conflict without a side, never quite sure who to root for.
to not take a side and to blur the line between good and evil is to the film’s detriment
Durotan (Toby Kebbell), alongside his wife and fellow species of orc, are searching for a new home to colonise, and choose that of Azeroth, where the humans inhabit, under the peaceful leadership of King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper). Though the former is also vying for a civil outcome, the latter readies his people for the worst, as they prepare for battle – particularly so for the King’s loyal friend, Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel). Fortunate enough to have warriors with special, supernatural powers in Medivh (Ben Foster) and Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), with the intimidating, physical presence of the orcs, they prepare for an intense battle that could see their people wiped out.
Jones has evidently expected his viewers to have played the game and to be well-versed with this particular universe, for we get stuck into this narrative with little back story nor explanation. Of course, given how many millions of people worldwide have a comprehensible knowledge of this world, that’s not going to be too big an issue, but there remain many who are coming into this picture blind, and are likely to be left somewhat alienated by this particular endeavour. It doesn’t help that we don’t have a protagonist to embody, a cipher or sorts that we can adopt the blissful perspective of, learning about the environment as they do. This also leads to a lack of emotional connection, given we have no individual story to follow, and no palpable focus. It would make sense to give that honour to Garona (Paula Patton), for she represents the notion the film is attempting to thrive off; as she’s half human, half orc – but even her story is deviated away from so carelessly.
What transpires is a film that is increasingly a challenge to invest in, and while it’s easy to marvel at the wondrous, vibrant aesthetic and relatively impressive combination of live-action and CGI, without emotion there’s no heart, and without a heart there’s no beat – and this film trudges along without ever tapping into our imaginations, to make for a distinctively cold, disengaging cinematic experience.