There is a honesty and truthfulness that comes with a Duncan Jones film, from having a famous father (a true legend) Jones broke convention not becoming one of those superficial celebs making a living in the shadow of a parent. I know very little if any thing about Warcraft, I know it’s big and I know it’s a fantasy role playing game so I’m not going to pretend I know more than that.
Warcraft with all the whiz bang jiggery pokery, beneath the sweeping shots and special effects there is a heart felt tale about parenting and loss. What Jones’ offering has is that Moon, Source Code humanity which Jones effortlessly brings to the table, that roundness and grounded feel that he stamps on his films. The script has an honesty that it’s not just some money making studio movie but an indie-spirited film finely crafted on a large scale. You feel your mate made this great spectacle, there’s an underlying apprehensive innocence in contrast to a sense of wonder and adventure. Warcraft seemingly feels that he isn’t in it for the money, but for the story telling and artistic craft of it all.
Unusually the subtitle ‘The Beginning’ was absent on the title screen in the cinema version, it simply says ‘Warcraft’ possibly linked to the rating. While available for all to see with an adult, the battles are intense, stabbings etc. it not just the scary demon and skeletal faces that will scare the young kids but the emotional impact of orc Durotan (CGI capture Tony Kebbell) wife and child storyline. As Orc clan honour is tested, there are duelling wizards, a giant golem and griffin. Jones also briefly throws in a few elves, dwarfs and huge wolves for good measure. There’s betrayal, double-crossing and retribution, the powerful magical Orc, Gul’dan (the excellent Daniel Wu) literary sucks the life of humans akin to The Dark Crystal.
The casting is not mainstream, Ben Foster’s wizard Medivh avoids stereotype and is a young incarnation of a wizard, as is Llane (Dominic Cooper) a younger than expected King. Battle hard human Lothar Travis Fimmel (of Amazon’s Vikings) as well as some grand action scenes, emotional set ups (one echoing the Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan showdown) he also gets comedic moments, many alongside wizard/mage apprentice Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) who again is not what you’d expect for someone so powerful. This casting works in Warcraft’s favour and if you had a thing for blue women Smurfette, Neytiri and Mystique, Stark Trek olive and She-Hulk green is the new in colour with Garona Halforcen. Fittingly cast is memorable underrated Clancy Brown (of Highlander fame) as the principled conflicted Blackhand, Gul’dan’s right-hand orc.
The daytime colour is bright and vivid in contrast to the pin sharp night time and darker scenes, Warcraft has a unique look and feel. The execution is near on perfect in the confines of the budget and today’s capabilities with brutal sword play and battles. The director is wise to keep the focus on the interesting characters and themes of conflict, family and loyalty with Ramin Djawadi ominous score adding to the proceedings. Warriors, Kings, magicians and creatures, the human cast and the CGI performers melt together and you invest in the characters and their secret meetings and campsite confessions. The computer imagery, textured layers of animation and 3D modeling fuse with the mix of practical stunts and sets. Fimmel and Kebbell are notable but Paula Patton as hardened Garona steals the show as a go between peace keeper and will no doubt set geek hearts aflame. Writers Jones, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen juggle the many major characters successfully and the cast deliver the fantasy dialogue with ease.
Jones and crew give us the Matrix of fantasy, lots of things will be familiar not just reminiscent because of Lord of the Rings, Dungeon and Dragons, Fire and Ice, Planet of the Apes, John Carter to name a few. But because of an inherent subconscious of the genre that’s in the ether and part of our pop culture. But like the stylised Matrix did for sci-fi (as much as I hate to admit it) after the dust settled it stood on its own feet and was a milestone in film. As a 70’d kid Warcraft for me puts magic back in the mix instead of it languishing in low budget TV shows, a soulless blockbusters or sub-par cash-ins, here Jones takes it to a fitting level where it should be and cleverly sets up a follow up.