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Warcraft: The Beginning

warcraft

“A new warrior for the horde.”

May 2006, nerds across the world jizz in their pants as they hear that Blizzard have finally decided to sell the rights to undoubtedly their most profitable product, Warcraft.

Years and years of development hell and being on the brink of cancellation has haunted film and game fans to the point we’d all given up on ever seeing it hit the light of day.

Then, in 2013, cult director Duncan Jones (the man behind Moon and Source Code) announced he’d be taking on directorial duties and even I got a little bit excited for the seemingly imminent release of the fan favourite adaptation.

May 2016, I’m finally sitting in one of the UK’s earliest general release shows for the third video game adaptation is half as many months with those same fans, wearing the same spunk encrusted pants from ten years ago, having barely mustered up the will to turn their computers off and the energy to leave the house. I’m sat with these sad fools, hoping that the film I’m about to watch isn’t a massive bag of wank.

Disclaimer: I am a former Warcraft player. I gave up right around the point that Blizzard stopped supporting Warcraft III and instead focussed on their subscription based RPG. So while I may have once had some knowledge of the lore of this series, I have gone in as a film-fan – and not a fan of the series.

With their world dying and their race on the brink of extinction, the fearsome Orcs utilise the powerful magic of their sorcerer leader, Gul’dan, to open a portal to another world. Powered by dark magic that needs life to fuel it, the portal can only be opened long enough to allow the Orc’s best warriors through to the peaceful land of Azeroth. There, they will build a settlement and create another portal to bring the rest of their race through. As the Orc army start to cut a path through the lands they’ve invaded and collect prisoners to power their new portal, word gets to the leaders of Azeroth of the invasion.

With news of the invasion comes panic. As the rulers and commanders of the land mobilise against this unknown enemy, King Wrynn (along with his friend and advisor Lothar) plan to tackle the Orcs head on and try to purge them from their world before too much damage can be done.

Plans go sideways on both sides of the battle and as the plans of all parties are revealed, both the humans and Orc clan chief Durotan – along with a few of his smarter clansmen – realise that the best (and indeed only) way that this war ends well for anyone is to work together to try and find a solution to their troubles.

Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin….

Warcraft isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be going in. That’s not to say it’s good; it’s pretty crap. But it has a few almost redeeming features that almost make it worth going to see. But unfortunately the bad points certainly heavily outweigh the good.

The film seems completely unfocused in its attempts to tell a story. The problem with having more than half a dozen “main” characters, all with their own story to tell and fighting for screen time means that no one really gets to have a decent crack at making me care about them. There’s no time to get invested in anyone’s predicament and no time to get to know anyone before your smash-cut to the next guy that wants to try for your attention.

And when you’ve got such a rich lore and such a well put together world as your source material, to not give it a chance to be on the big screen for us all to see is a real shame. Warcraft spends far too many of its opening minutes flicking between a whole butt-load of different locations, seemingly just to give the filmmakers an excuse to flash a bunch of in-game place names to prove that the guys making the film know what they’re talking about. “Please guys. Believe us. We have read a Warcraft wiki and the back of the game box. We can prove it.”

Almost as much of a travesty is just how much talent is wasted by this film. I’ve been a fan of Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel for a long time; but as Lothar he just seems like a cheap version of the Ragnar character that I love so much. And even when the big, significant character arc pieces happen, I simply don’t care because I haven’t been given the appropriate amount of time with characters to care. The same can be said for Dominic Cooper’s King, a man that somehow looks like a teenager dressing up like a Shadow of Mordor character for Comic-Con and has about the same amount of range.

Yes, I’m bringing up Lord of the Rings. Tell me this wasn’t greenlit after LOTR was a success, I dare you.

With Toby Kebbell unrecognisable on voice duty for Durotan; Ben Foster as super-duper human wizard/guardian Medivh; and Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu bringing up the rear as barely recognisable, wasted voice casting, Warcraft has a shit load to answer for.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, some of it is rather good. Front and centre of this piece is of course the CGI and how it’s used. Durotan and his Orcs look absolutely amazing, the attention to detail in the character design is flawless and everyone looks like an individual. Closely tied to that are the couple of immense battle scenes that look superb. Filmed from an awesome angle that makes it look like any of the massive in-game battles players could have seen in the decades of playing Warcraft and taking control of game after game after game.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that it’s like that bit in the Doom movie where the camera went first-person. But not utter shit.

Finally, and I am very aware that I’m harping on about the CGI, but it’s definitely worth talking about, is the couple of one-on-one fights in the film. Whether Orc vs. Orc, or Orc vs. Human, the fighting looks great. I won’t go far as to say that you forget that you’re looking at a computer generated monster, but it certainly looks good enough to immerse you in the moment, and that’s all that really matters.

Duncan Jones shows some real flashes of genius with Warcraft: The Beginning. But sadly it’s just not enough to quite break the curse of bad game-to-film adaptations. I’m very aware that this is likely to be one of those “for the fans” kind of films, and considering the veritable smorgasbord of complete fuckwits in the screening with me last night, I’m glad I’m not one of those fans – seriously.

I would love to review the collection of wet, lumpy farts I was sharing the screening with. I could get an essay out of tearing them apart! But when your film costs this much, you need to put more effort into not alienating general filmgoers and not just delivering fan service to those hordes of people that refuse to leave their damn computer desks.

Like I said before, Warcraft isn’t as bad as it could have been. Some poor character choices, worse story-telling decisions, and the part where it blatantly tees up a sequel (with an opening shot it refused to revisit and an ending that isn’t anything close to an ending) left me with a shitty taste in my mouth.

And the worst of this film’s crimes? Crimes against the film and against its legacy?

You want to guess?

It tries so hard not to be Lord of the Rings that it completely forgot to be Warcraft.

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Fantastic Four

Wolverine Origins. Elektra. Catwoman. Rise of the Silver Surfer. If you really think Josh Trank’s new Fantastic Four is on the same rung of the ladder as these appalling excuses for entertainment, then you should prepare yourself for some serious head-shaking if you decide to read on.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

fantastic four 2015Hi, my name is Owen Hughes and I am a comic book reader. Something that pre Marvel’s film renaissance was something to share with only a select few like-minded friends, not to admit to in public. Well, Batman was fine to confess to. Spider-Man too in some circles. But mention goofy names like Fantastic Four and you were on your own.

Admittedly, I’m not now (nor have I ever particularly been) an avid reader of Marvel comics specifically. I’m more of a DC kind of guy. If that doesn’t make much sense to you, then consider the age-old quote about Marvel heroes being aspirational, whereas DC’s roster are inspirational; whilst not quite as consistently black and white as that, I felt myself drawn more often than not towards DC’s God-like characters (and Batman. Everybody loves Batman.)

What comicbook issue or story I would pick up in next month’s pull list only ever came down to two determining factors: a) which characters I liked and had invested time in already; and b) what writer was working on a project. Cue my interest developing in Fantastic Four when, after some limited experience with their place in the Ultimates Universe via other titles, a friend foisted upon me the first trade paper back of the run by the immensely talented writer Jonathan Hickman. It was… difficult. Not completely impenetrable, but certainly confusing and disorientating to begin with, but at the same time impressively ambitious. It wove mind-bendingly intricate plots and character arcs that I couldn’t even begin to conceive of how they would end, let alone how the next page or panel would continue.

When Josh Trank started to talk about being influenced by the work of David Cronenberg, I wasn’t sure how to react. A part of me was still reeling from the lamentable 2005 film and its sequel. Yet another part of me remained optimistic. A Cronenberg-esque Fantastic Four movie? Yep, that could work. Taking his inspiration from the Brian M Bendis / Mark Millar (yes that Kick-Ass guy) interpretation of the characters in their Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, it should have been perfectly acceptable. You don’t have to make the characters and story primarily for young children just because the group’s name is embarrassing to say out loud as an adult. I’ve seen Hickman successfully do more adult and darker stories in the comics. Twice, no less, if you include the few issues of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates that I’d read. If any young aspirational director out there could do it justice, then naturally the guy behind one of 2012’s surprise hits, Chronicle, could be that guy?

Unfortunately, from the moment the project was announced, it hasn’t been without its lion share of controversy. With Trank allegedly trashing the set, upsetting his crew and causing headaches for the higher-ups at Fox, however true or false the rumours were, it permitted a swell of negativity about the movie in the public perception even before its trailer had made it to the screen. Throw in the ridiculous furore over casting an African American, Michael B Jordan, as the traditionally Caucasian hot-head character Johnny Storm, as if this was somehow an integral part of the character’s make up, and it just fanned the flames (get it? Because Johnny Storm says “flame on” when he sets himself on fire! It’s a joke! I’m trying to add humour to a super-serious film review… oh, never mind.)

Whilst many fans rejoiced at the progressiveness of casting the best actor for the role regardless of skin colour, a small section of narrow minded idiots couldn’t deal with it. “What if they decided to cast James Bond as a woman?” “What if they made Batman a disabled child?” “What if they cast a midget as Jack Reacher?” Yeah. Exactly. What if? If the end product is good enough, then who honestly has reason to care?

I suppose that’s what this review should eventually boil down to. Was this a good enough interpretation of not just the Human Torch, but of all the characters in general? From Johnny Storm’s adopted sister Susan, played by Kate Mara, to best buddies Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) played by British actor Jamie Bell, and (the ever-growing in popularity) Miles Teller as the limb stretching Mister Fantastic, Reed Richards, they just don’t gel as a unit at any point. Trank often breaks the group up into smaller teams to demonstrate how they are weaker apart. Tragedy befalls the group every time they don’t work as a cohesive line-up, especially when they ditch a key component of their group to navigate some inter-dimensional travel in what is for all intents and purposes an origins story to a sequel that may never happen based on initial critical reception.

It should be pointed out that this isn’t clearly explained within the film itself. For a movie that appears to pride itself on developing its characters, it appears to have bitten off more than it could chew. Rather than let characters organically drift in and out of the story as and when necessary, it seems as though Trank presumably accidentally casts them adrift for large portions of the runtime. For example, when Ben has done his bit with Reed, off he goes for a good 20 minutes. Not that Reed himself is immune to the chop as he all but disappears for what must be about 8-10 minutes of the film too. Hoping to see the fallout from Victor Von Doom’s shenanigans? Think again. At least the other characters get name checked during their absence. Poor old Doom isn’t even alluded to during his time out. I can only assume that the point is to drive home the “better together” message at the heart of the story. Alas, like large chunks of proceedings, it just wasn’t portrayed well.

Admittedly that may be slightly harsh as it’s hard enough sometimes to properly develop a couple of characters in a 100 minute movie, let alone six or more. Nevertheless, it’s still a problem. There was also little to no balance between characters’ emotions as they one second appeared to hold a certain opinion before careering off suddenly into a completely different lane like an out of control Toyota.

Frequently scenes had me scratching my head. Not because of its complex Warren Ellis inspired levels of scientific detail, but because of either how badly edited and/or written they were, which is only the more infuriating as in some areas there seems to be a lot of care of attention to detail. If you are at all wound up by little niggly pedantic problems often labelled as “goofs” on IMDb profiles, then this won’t be the movie for you as they were all too common an occurrence to be ignored.

However, like most moments throughout, there’s both good and bad to be found in every scene. The specific moment when the characters first gain their abilities is one of the more entertaining sections, generating as much tension as the film could muster. The effects looked stunning and played their part in increasing the excitement. In contrast, the set of circumstances leading these characters to this point are so incredibly contrived and lazy that it makes my defence of it so much more difficult. Even the events immediately afterwards show very little of the fallout and are nowhere near as cataclysmic as they should be. Reg E. Cathey is arguably the most well cast member of the entire bunch, but the hints at backstory between him and Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom are underplayed and superficial. Tim Blake Nelson plays the government representative like a pantomime villain, but even the friction there with his interactions with the quartet is not utilised enough.

All in all, it’s great that Trank has at least attempted to avoid the all too common pitfalls of the genre. It would be an exaggeration to describe the opening third as exciting, but I count it as a positive that matters were very rarely resolved with a short period of clobbering. The seams start to come away through a plodding and stiflingly slow middle section which seems to be heading nowhere. That is until Trank can resist no longer and relents with a grand (albeit generic) action-packed finale. In keeping with the rest of the film, even this climactic showdown struggles to have a bit of fun with itself. If anything, I had the distinct impression that Trank was almost apologetic in the necessity of including such a mass-appeasing scene, rendering it rushed and unsatisfying in its conclusion.

What makes Fantastic Four hard to hate, and why I can’t get on the “this movie is terrible” train that is steaming past me at 100mph, is that despite what I’ve said, I honestly didn’t sit there bored. Instead, I was mostly in a constant state of waiting for the expected to eventually happen. Then, when it did happen, it disappointingly didn’t elicit any emotion in me one way or the other. The movie was over, and so too is presumably the franchise until the inevitable soft-reboot.

It’s a big budget superhero movie that will go down in the annals of history as a project that never fulfilled its potential with a director who never quite found his rhythm. It so nearly broke the mould for its type, but obliged to pander to its typical audience, it never strayed too far from what was familiar and ended up underachieving.