Before this film, my knowledge of “Warcraft” was pretty much restricted to the brilliant “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode of “South Park” and that YouTube video of Leeroy Jenkins. Luckily, you don’t need any knowledge of the various other iterations of the franchise to enjoy this rollicking sword and sorcery adventure.
With Draenor, the Orc home world dying, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) unites the Orc clans and, using a dark magic known as the Fel, takes a raiding party through a portal to a new world: Azeroth. Here, the Orcs begin to raid villages in order to gather enough prisoners to use to open the portal once again and bring the entire Orc race through.
Opening as it does on the Orcs, there’s a period where “Warcraft” threatens to be yet another soulless CGI extravaganza but thanks to some fine [motion capture] performances from the likes of Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, Travis Fimmel, Ben Schnetzer and the skilful direction of Duncan Jones, it quickly manages to rise above its video game origins and becomes something rather special, approaching in its final hour something resembling a family friendly version of “Game Of Thrones”.
More overtly magical than HBO’s ratings juggernaut, after establishing the main players, kingdoms and races, “Warcraft” patiently begins to layer in hints and allusions to the wider world of “Warcraft” as well as laying the foundations for future developments. The film isn’t [occasionally] subtitled “The Beginning” for nothing. Not that it doesn’t tell a satisfying story in its own right, with intrigue and action within the Orc society and the kingdoms of Azeroth underpinned by a mysterious magical struggle between the Guardian, his young apprentice and the dark forces of the Fel that reaches a dramatic climax at the Fel Gate.
Jones brings some much needed stylistic and thematic depth to the clashing of swords and spellcasting, weaving the responsibilities of each generation to deliver a better life for their children throughout, highlighting the parallels between the Orc and human societies. Legacy is important in this fantasy world and, in the grand fantasy tradition, more than one torch is passed as the older generation makes way for the new.
With action and spectacle to spare, it doesn’t waste a single moment, even where it might have benefitted from it. Like “The Lord Of The Rings” movies, a longer cut (Jones’ Director’s Cut is reputed to be forty minutes longer) may well improve this although the clever way the film has been put together allows the audience to accept much of the details of the world without the need for detailed expeditionary scenes. Its videogame origin and fantasy subject matter may end up putting off some cinemagoers but that would be a real shame. It’s a supremely well-made, visually spectacular high fantasy adventure. I can’t speak for fans of the game (who may find things to nit-pick about) but for Mertmas and me, everything was new and exciting. “Warcraft: The Beginning” is quality blockbuster entertainment and the first of this summer’s pleasant surprises. I really hope we get to see more.