*1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Duncan Jones
STARS Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton
Daniel Wu in Warcraft (Photo: Universal)
For the sake of decency, movie theaters playing Warcraft should offer free popcorn to all non-gamer audience members who survive the first 20 minutes of the film. Fans familiar with the Blizzard Entertainment franchise will doubtless weep sweet-and-salty tears of joy that a motion picture is speaking directly to their console-controlled hearts, but most moviegoers will find it a chore sitting through expository sequences as graceless, clumsy and impenetrable as those on view here. Yet after this trying and torturous opening, the story starts coming into view, and Warcraft soon emerges as — well, it's still a feeble flick, but it improves enough to avoid the year-end 10 Worst placement that initially appeared to be its birthright.
With its mix of humans, orcs, dwarfs and even a Golem/Gollum, one would be forgiven for mistaking this movie for The Lord of the Rings: The Bootleg Edition. The plot involves the skirmish between humans, whose ranks include scruffy soldier Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), young wizard Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and veteran sorcerer Medivh (a badly miscast Ben Foster), and the hulking orcs, who seem like they might be decent chaps were they not imbecilic enough to serve under the transparently evil Gul'dan (Daniel Wu). There's also the half-orc Garona (Paula Patton), who inexplicably falls for the lackluster Lothar, as well as some imposing wolves apparently borrowed from Princess Mononoke.
Duncan Jones, son of the late, great David Bowie and helmer of the excellent Moon (as well as the flawed if intriguing Source Code), fares better as director than co-writer, since the battle sequences are far more accomplished than any of the scenes in which characters stand around spouting inanities. Even when at the mercy of shaky CGI, the skirmishes are competently choreographed and suggest that Jones might have been able to make the leap from low-key sci-fi to big-budget extravaganzas had the material been stronger. The film also boasts a tremendous score by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, suitably bombastic music that works overtime in trying to lend majesty and import to what's occurring on the screen. Alas, it's a losing battle.