Despite a $160m budget, the exciting talents of film director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and being founded on a genre-defining computer game that is beloved by players across the globe, Warcraft: The Beginning is decidedly underwhelming.
It tanked at the US box office with an opening weekend taking of $24 million opening weekend. That compares with a $35 million opening weekend for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, another blockbuster released around the same time, and is even less than the $26m made by Fox’s famously abysmal Fantastic Four reboot.
But the production has been saved from sinking entirely by China, of all places, where it raked in more than $90m on its opening weekend and went on to make a record-breaking $156m in just five days. That’s more than the entire theatrical run of Star Wars: The Force Awakens made in China ($124m) and puts the film’s worldwide total at $286.1m.
I’m guessing that thanks to its success overseas we will be seeing more of Warcraft, which is clearly the forward guard in an attempt to establish a new film franchise, even if only to serve a ravenous Chinese market.
In Warcraft: The Beginning we’re introduced to the events that created the world seen in the popular massively multiplayer online game. With their homeworld dying, the orcs have entered the world of man through a portal created by green-eyed orc warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). His power is drawn from The Fel, a dark magic that requires life (and thus death) to be used.
This is just the meanest and greenest members of the Warband, however, and Gul’Dan plans to bring the rest of the Hoarde through the portal once on the other side where he can stock up on lives to forfeit for the magic needed to keep it open.
But the orcs aren’t all evil brutes. One tribal chieftain in particular, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) begins to sense a connection between the death of the Orc homeworld and the power of The Fel, which turns his infected kin green and even more hulking. An accord with the humans, led by benevolent ruler King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), may be the only way to put an end to the demonic Gul’dan and his cursed magic.
Warcraft’s strength is in the way it looks on screen. The Orcs are gloriously oversized and cartoonish – miles away from the wretched creatures in The Lord of the Rings trilogy – with a distinct tribal culture that is fearsome but not savage. Kebbell’s Durotan is a caring father and leader and feels like a real person despite being made from pixels, which is down to the War Horse actor’s talent as he mo-capped this performance.
Also putting in memorable and hugely enjoyable performances are Paula Patton – as sexy half orc, half human slave Garona – and Travis Frimmel, who has an intriguing charisma that makes his role as cliched troubled warrior Anduin Lothar pleasingly watchable.
Cooper (Tamara Drewe, Captain America: The First Avenger) is ill-fitting as an inspiring ruler. Someone with a but more gravitas might have given the role, and the movie, some added heft.
Apparently a huge Warcraft fan himself, Jones also wrote the screenplay alongside Charles Leavitt, based on Chris Metzen’s story and characters.
On screen, Jones’ editing jars at times. A fight between Azeroth’s Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster), young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and Lothar is badly cut between a second larger-scale but connected battle in a different location. It’s a familiar device, famously used in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as Luke Skywalker battles Darth Vader and The Emperor as the Rebels take on the imperial fleet in space, but there are too many leaps forward when cutting back to the more intimate fight.
Final word: Warcraft is certainly fun and sets up a story that leaves you wanting to find out more, but it somehow manages to lack heart. In delivering on scale and spectacle it doesn’t give us enough time with the characters who we want to know more about.
If you liked Warcraft: The Beginning you should also watch:
- The Hobbit trilogy
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy