12A – 123mins – 2016 – 3D
HORDES AGAINST HUMANITY
Fleeing their devastated homeworld through a portal opened by the dark magic-wielding shaman Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), a clan of brutish battle-ready orcs called the Horde invade the human realm of Azeroth with settlement and domination their driving force. But as a human Alliance led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel), wizard Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) and outcast half-orc Garona (Paula Patton) rise up to defend their home, questions are raised from both sides of this epic race war as to whether violence is the best solution…
Moon-maker Duncan Jones does a valiant effort of leading this long-gestating game-to-screen adaptation into cinemas. With such a loyal and well-versed fanbase of the addictively collectible Blizzard Entertainment MMORPG already in place, there was a lot riding on whether this glossy, CG-heavy medieval fantasy action flick could stand up to scrutiny.
I will confess I went in cold, with my closest frames of reference being the all-conquering Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies from Peter Jackson, and the less-successful Dungeons & Dragons filmic conversions, which concluded on DVD. The world of Warcraft: The Beginning is equally as dense and confusing, to the extent that as numerous kingdoms, sorcerers incantations and gibberish monikers are thrown about, you often feel a guidebook or in-universe encyclopedia would help make this vast fictional realm a mite more accessible to real-time strategy game virgins.
Visually, however, the construction is resplendent in scale and wonder, with flawless imagery often breath-taking to behold. With such a disparity in size between the human and orc races, the characters do occasionally suffer from an Avatar-esque feeling of uncanny disassociation – not aided by how confusingly similar some of the hulking, non-human designs are.
Bowie’s son Jones (who is truly venturing outside his comfort zone here) and co-writers Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen have done an admirable job of attributing even the “monstrous beasties” with humanising personalities, lending considerable narrative heft to the grunting conflict and muddied motivations of both armies.
There is potential in this backstory-bloated origin story, and even if you disengage your brain and just go with the eye-popping spectacle you’ll have fun. The fact that some of the actors look like they’ve done the same (Dominic Cooper, in particular, looks like he has simply raided a royal dress-up box) is one reason why Warcraft: The Beginning hasn’t quite hit the ground running, but there is infinite sequel potential to build on this far from orc-ful first roll of the dice.