Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton
2 (out of 5) Globes
Can you really hate something born of naked sincerity? This is an era of soulless money-gobblers like “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and the second “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which luckily haven’t made much money. “Warcraft” exists to make cash, too — it is, after all, a video game movie. But it’s also a talented fan’s passion project, its every inch brimming with unfiltered dorkiness. There are mages and library ghosts (played by Glenn Close!) and rampaging golems. There are places with names like Ironforge (where iron is forged). Orcs and roided-out humans, and sometimes even dwarves, stomp about knockoff Tolkien landscapes and expansive rooms barking things like, “I am Durotan, son of Garrosh!” and “Where is the protector of Azeroth?”
If you can’t follow any of this, you — unlike director and co-writer Duncan Jones (“Moon,” “Source Code,” also David Bowie’s son) — probably aren’t a “World of Warcraft” player. And there’s the rub: Jones’ love runs too deep. He stumbles about trying to pound a cherished game into a two-hour spectacular. This is pure boondoggle, the kind of impenetrable morass that would usually get a confusing opening with a head floating in space vomiting up exposition, a la “Zardoz” or David Lynch’s “Dune.” During the latter’s disastrous theatrical run in 1984, unsuspecting multiplex audiences were handed leaflets with a list of jargon, forcing them to quickly memorize terms like “gom jabbar,” “melange” and “mentat.” “Warcraft” could use one of those, too; every third word out of everyone’s mouth is concentrated gobbledygook.
It’s not easy to keep up with “Warcraft,” which can be harder on the brain than sitting in the middle of two molecular scientists talking shop. But its plot is pretty basic, just disorganized. At base it’s a simple origin story, setting up how two species — the marauding orcs and the peaceful but powerful humans — began what we’re told is a war lasting generations. The orcs — he-man homunculi with pierced chompers and speaker-rumbling growls — have been misled by their evil, green-eyed despot to transport from realm to realm, reaping the land and its denizens and absorbing their powers. When they arrive in dreamy Azeroth, they find puny but ripped humans who can put up a fight, if not by sword (or gun) then with the blindingly bright superpowers of their magicians, one of whom (Ben Foster) looks like Jesus (or Jared Leto).
Our Movie Franchise Industrial Complex necessitates this all end with a desperate plea for a sequel. “Warcraft” doesn’t even have a real ending, just the promise/threat of more mumbo-jumbo, alternating with juiceless war orgies. (Jones might be too brainy to be good with action. The melees are flurries of green and tannish bodies smashing each other in neutered PG-13.) It’s not even a particularly novel world. Just as “World of Warcraft” is a mash-up of all things fantasy, so too is Jones’ movie — everything is hand-me-down, usually from “Lord of the Rings.” It doesn’t feel like a painstakingly crafted world, just a mash-up of what came before.
But back to the initial question: Can you really hate “Warcraft”? It certainly makes that easy. Few of the characters stand out, and good actors — like Paula Patton, as a half-human half-orc warrior whose lineage is weirdly never explained — appear stranded. Travis Fimmel’s mighty human Lothar (not of the Hill People) is a bland McHero who makes Jon Snow look like Liberace. And yet ignoring the muddled story, ignoring the avalanche of nerd words that will never stick in the mind, one can still groove on its sincerity. It plays like a kid spending the afternoon mashing together his action figures, pitting one toy line against several others. It’s about as coherent as that, too, but it’s the rare debacle that feels like it came from a good place.