Can latest videogame-to-film adaptation escape the tremendous weight of expectation of World of Warcraft‘s legions of fans and capture a fraction of the popularity of its MMORPG parent?

While I might know the difference between a Tauren and Pandaren I’m sad to admit that I only have a passing familiarity with the world of Warcraft in all its forms. I’ve never played the RTS, the MMORPG or even Hearthstone (which I’ve installed but not opened) so if you are looking for an in-depth analysis of how closely Warcraft (or Warcraft: The Beginning) hews to its source material I’m afraid I can’t help you. What I can tell you is how Duncan Jones’ adaptation fares as entertainment and in that regards it’s a very mixed offering.

Beginning with the Orc invasion of “Azeroth”, the “world” of Warcraft, the film throws a tonne of concepts at the viewer at a rapid pace and expects them to keep up, starting with the Orcs. Orcs are huge, fearsome warriors from another world, but they aren’t mindless monsters as depicted in some other media and are capable of moments of surprising tenderness and emotion. Some have green skin, afflicted by some dark magic known as “fel” and their world is dying. They need a new one, and Azeroth is top of the list

Hail to the chief(tan)

Warcraft Orcs

Chieftan Durotan isn’t too enamoured with the current Orc leader Blackhand or Gul’dan, the Orc mage who’s “fel” magic has provided the Orcs with passage to another world, but he and his Frostwolf clan go along with the invasion plans in the hope of salvation for them and their children.

Opposing the Orcs are a seemingly endless parade of men with beards and a budget Josh Hartnett, who are completely in the dark as to this new threat to their lands.

Throw in Paula Patton as Orcish half-breed Garona (think a sexier version of Princess Fiona from Shrek) and some inscrutable mages and the stage is set for a tale of conquest, desperation, unexpected alliances and betrayals.

The fact that the huge CGI Orcs, with their tusks jutting awkwardly from the lower jaws, are for the most part far more engaging than Warcraft‘s human stars is one of the many problems with the movie.

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Warcraft Death From Above

It also takes an interminable amount of time to get going, and it might have been better if the Orcs had been introduced after their first impressive on-screen battle with the human heroes. While there is plenty of well-staged action and a huge battle to cap off the film almost none of the plot threads are satisfactorily resolved. This is technically a prequel, and so it’s understandable that steps have to be taken to tie in with the existing lore. However, viewers unfamiliar with the franchise aren’t going to care about things like the fate of the baby Go’el or why the villain of the piece doesn’t quite get his comeuppance. Perhaps a smaller scale story, not beholden to the history of Azeroth might have been a more rewarding experience.

The action sequences at the film’s climax also seem to have suffered most from the 40 minutes of material that Duncan Jones has said was cut from his cut of the movie with Lothar and Khadgar confusingly jumping from attacking an evil mage to hiding, without any scenes in the middle to explain what happened.

Adventure Time

Warcraft Fair Garona

Wedged in the middle of all this, however, is an enjoyable fantasy adventure that moves along quickly and boasts some very impressive fight scenes and creature FX. Try as they might Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Dominic Cooper (Preacher, Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger), Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer can’t quite measure up to Durotan and his Orc allies. While they may look badly lit in some long shots up close, the Orcs look fantastic, and Toby Kebbell, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu really breathe life into their characters. Paula Patton soldiers on bravely through a face full of tusks, the only real female presence in the film apart from an underutilised Ruth Negga and a frankly bizarre cameo by Glenn Close.

Those who grew up with regular instalments of The Lord of the Rings may find that Warcraft fills the hole left by Peter Jackson’s (mostly) classic films, at least until we get a decent Dungeons and Dragons movie or Game of Thrones appears on the big screen. The horde (geddit?) of WoW fans might also get more from the film, but non-fans/general audiences may be left scratching their heads.

Not the best video-game adaptation ever, but also not quite the worst.

Warcraft premieres in Malaysian cinemas on 9th June 2016

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Ryan Robbins

Directed by:  Duncan Jones

Official Site here.