Sunday, June 12, 2016

Warcraft Review

I had to give myself a sort of internal pep talk before sitting down to watch the brand new film Warcraft. Ignore the critical reception and make up your own mind. Push aside my positive bias for Duncan Jones and pretend I have no idea who was sitting in the director's chair. Judge this movie fairly and accurately and try not to replay the disappointment I felt every time I saw the trailer for this and thought, this is from the guy who made Moon and Source Code? Shit, see, just like that and I am thinking about Duncan Jones again. It's a vicious circle.

Speaking of that critical reception that yes, I did my best to ignore but let's face it, it's sort of like when a judge orders a jury to ignore remarks that have been stricken from the record. Sure, those twelve angry men and women will nod their heads and perhaps never mention what they heard aloud to each other, but they can't truly forget it. They can't completely block out the noise. Therefore, it was impossible for me to not consider some of the reactions I had caught wind of and wonder what they saw, what they were thinking that lead them to that opinion, especially those that seemed so over-the-top and hyperbolic that the notion of being a sensationalist in order to get more clicks seemed highly likely, like at least one critic if not more using the phrase "worst film of all time" in their Warcraft headlines.

I completely understand and respect that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it's difficult to not think that someone is being a bit short-sighted if they truly believe Warcraft is the worst movie ever made. It's not even the worst film released in June of 2016 starring Paula Patton. It's not even the worst film I watched this weekend. In fact I kinda liked Warcraft, but I say that fully admitting that there is plenty here to completely dislike. This is a deeply flawed, strange film directed by a man whose previous two pictures might be described as a bit strange but never flawed. Moon is an absolute masterpiece, a movie that utilizes a minimalist approach in the best way possible to allow an award worthy performance from Sam Rockwell and a haunting concept to move me to tears and rattle my soul. Source Code was a step down from that lofty debut yet it still manages to be a pretty brilliant and wonderfully tense science fiction thriller that moves at a perfect pace and fully entertains from start to finish. It's incredibly easy for me to say that Warcraft is the worst film Duncan Jones has made, and after the way his career as a filmmaker began, I sit here extremely disappointed that so much time of his was devoted to a project that couldn't possibly demonstrate his potential.

Despite this disappointment, I would be lying if I said I wasn't entertained by this wacky, weird and wild slice of fantasy cinema that features mediocre costume design, wooden performances from the human characters and messy storytelling in general. I think my biggest problem with Warcraft is the length of the movie, as it was simply impossible to adequately build the world that Jones wanted to construct, develop the many characters that he wanted to inhabit it and flesh out the relationships that make both the people and the orcs such interesting and personal creatures, which was clearly his goal. From the very beginning to the final frame the running time of Warcraft is roughly 113 minutes, which may seem like a reasonable length for a film but it just doesn't work for a fantasy epic meant to kick off a franchise. I'm not comparing the quality of the movies because that just wouldn't be fair, but imagine if the first Lord of the Rings film was less than 2 hours long. It would have been an absolute failure. The reason those movies ended up being such incredible experiences is because Peter Jackson told the story with such patience, devoting a large amount of time to allow the audience to care about those characters and their journey. I couldn't possibly emotionally invest in anyone or anything Warcraft offered because it's not possible when the film starts off with a voice-over to lay some brief groundwork and then thrusts us into plot without any build up. I watched every moment carefully and yet a day later I can barely remember any character names, because I never really wanted to get to know them.

What I admire about Warcraft on both a studio level and also about the writers and director is that this is a big budget summer blockbuster that couldn't give two shits about the fact that they were clearly going to alienate a portion of their potential audience that might have hoped it would just follow the beats of seemingly similar movies, like the aforementioned Lord of the Rings trilogy. Warcraft is silly and utterly strange, at times a deeply heartfelt experience that illustrates just how much Jones cares about what he made here which surprised me. When I first heard that he had signed on for this project I was bothered that a man with such a strong eye for lower budget filmmaking would be forced to make a soulless studio film for a big paycheck, but it just isn't the case. Turns out Jones is a huge fan of the Warcraft video games and lobbied for the gig and sold those writing the checks on his vision. After all is said and done, I had a fair amount of fun with what he came up with, warts and all. If only this had been 30 minutes longer, because as is it feels like a movie that only fans of the game will fall in love with since they already have a wealth of knowledge about the world of Azeroth prior to even taking their seats. For those who have never played Warcraft or even people like me who played the original game long ago but nothing since, the lack of breathing room for any of the storytelling here produced a muddled, messy film that desperately needed more time to allow everything to breathe.

I have seen plenty of films far, far worse than Warcraft, so if you had any inclination to see it and were scared off by the critics, feel free to give it a chance and make up your own mind. I wish I could give it a bigger thumbs up but the fact that I enjoyed it at all works for me. Here's to China driving this one to box office glory with the hope that perhaps a sequel would be the character driven 150 minute long epic that I had hoped this first Warcraft would be.


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