I went into “Warcraft” knowing nothing about the orcs and humans and dwarves that live in Ironforge or Stormwind or anywhere in the world of Azeroth or the races and clans and magicians that populate its multiple kingdoms.
I was not, let me admit, the target audience for a feature based on Blizzard Entertainment’s popular “World of Warcraft” computer games.
I cared even less about the lore of who was who and did what where after viewing it. Being skull-pounded at length by giant photorealistic motion-capture brutes swinging war hammers tends to sap your attention.
This grandiose, generic non-spectacle spent seven years at the altar of corporate merchandising and fanboy service in development hell. It put me somewhere similar for two hours, and walloped acclaimed director Duncan Jones worse still. After his outstanding and original science fiction debuts “Moon” and “Source Code,” his work in this fantasy realm is hackneyed formula at its cheesiest, right down to the clichéd, generic costume design.
Jones’ many fans anticipated this as his version of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Instead they received this year’s “Jupiter Ascending.” You can’t blame Jones because he is clearly trying so hard, but the result is a huge missed opportunity.
The film is about orcs (muscular bigfoot CGI humanoids with wolf ears and pig tusks) who use a space portal to escape their dying world. Medieval-style humans debate moral/political details about killing or making peace with the foreigners. Each side’s central characters receive a pinch of sympathy and development.
Toby Kebbell provides the voice for Durotan, an above-board orc chieftain. King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) and his brother-in-law Cmdr. Lothar (“Vikings” star Travis Fimmel) are humanity’s guardians. Ridiculously exaggerated battle scenes follow them everywhere, with the film scoring higher on energetic visual experience than story.
The good side of the film is its moments of unintentional comedy. Ben Foster, a fine character actor always cast as untrustworthy suspects, here plays a sorcerer in service of his trusting king. What a cryptic expression the wizard has — might he be up to something secretive? Paula Patton tries for a deeper performance as a green-skinned alien babe wearing stripperific battle gear, a breed of exotic yet attractive crowd-pleaser since Capt. James Kirk was a cadet.
Her Amazon action girl, apparently the result of an orc/human union, begins as a rather mannish bruiser but gradually becomes more interested in delivering lip locks than blunt trauma. With her Shrek-green pigmentation and mini-tusks, her character’s increasing human-romantic urges look absurd, but Patton performs this very odd beast like someone threatened to kill her pet if she wasn’t serious.
And she’s not even the most surreal female in the story. That goes to Anna Galvin’s motion-capture performance as the pregnant mate and warrior partner of the film’s leading orc. With her hugely distended stomach and the body of Hercules’ big sister, the computer-generated big mama is a running accidental joke. It’s made even more laughable when she tenderly delivers her little bundle of green joy.
The film hustles across its mythical realm at top speed, its characters riding griffins, giant wolves, space portals and teleportation spells. Yet it never seems to arrive anywhere important. Scenes open and close at random, like cut scenes from the computer game franchise, not key plot points.
The kind of character development, world building and action staging required for a blockbuster requires the tight focus and wide-arching intelligence of a filmmaker like James Cameron, whose “Avatar” sequels I’m excited to see. “Warcraft” is presented as the opening chapter in a franchise, but already I feel it’s time to move on. We’re done here.