We unleash our opinions on Captain America: Civil War, The Colony, Eye in the Sky, Alice: Through The Looking Glass, 10 Cloverfield Lane, X-Men: Apocalypse, The Boss, The Nice Guys and Warcraft: The Beginning in our latest podcast. Your attention is demanded, nay, required! Well, requested. If you’re not too busy. We guarantee you’ll get some level of enjoyment from it! Zero is a level too, right?
Marvel Studio’s latest in its Films for Babies series will almost certainly be the biggest film of the year, so I’m sure enough of you have seen it, and the rest of you will have heard enough about it, so as to make a detailed plot recap redundant. So you’ll excuse me if I take care of that quickly and skip past all of the layered subtleties that aren’t there.
Tony “Iron ‘Robert Downey Jr’ Man” Stark is sad because normal people died off-camera during a colossal alien invasion in the first Avengers film, and that boring robot/city garbage in the second Avengers film, and during a terrorist incident at the start of this film, all of which would have been incalculably worse if they weren’t around to stop it. Nonetheless, if he’s not swayed by some pretty shaky logic that the Avengers need government oversight there wouldn’t be a film, so he is.
Steve “Captain ‘Chris Evans’ America” Rogers is sad because he posits a hypothetical that governments can’t always be trusted, or something along those lines, and so doesn’t want to be part of their so-called system, man. His position is also redolent with flaky logic and reasoning, but again, without that there’s not much of a film here.
Those refusing to sign up to a new Registration act are supposed to hang up their spandex and retire, but a personal crisis for Cap shows up when Bucky “Winter ‘Sebastian Stan’ Soldier” Barnes reappears, having been activated by Daniel Brühl’s Zemo, Brühl being probably the best thing in the entire movie, and also entirely under-utilised, because this is a garbage film for garbage people.
What with the Winter Soldier being a dangerous murderer and all, he’s immediately put on a kill list, but Rogers still thinks of him as his wittle fweind and undertakes to bring him in peacefully which soon enough proves to be unviable, leading to the Avengers team splitting in half as some, without any reference to logic, reason, motive, or sanity, take Rogers side in protecting a mass murderer against the rest of the team, who are cast as the villains, somehow.
This leads, after an interminably boring hour and a half or so of set up, to what is in theory an exciting clash between the opposing teams, but is really just another in the ceaseless parade of boring CG set-pieces the mainline Marvel films have dribbled our way. There’s a few bright spots- Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man gets perhaps the best lines and the only interesting CG moments, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man also has his moments, although introduction of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panter gets more screentime. Through no fault of his though, he’s just another costumed freak clogging up the works and getting in the way of the story.
Captain America: Civil War runs to nearly two and a half hours. Two and a half hours! There’s a film I like in here somewhere, but it’s about one hour and eight characters lighter. There’s a hint here and there that the Russo brothers understand that, particularly the conclusion that’s stripped away most of the excess and brought it back to where it should have been all along, Bucky, Rodgers and Stark throwing haymakers at each other in a grimy, disused facility. I should note this is exactly how I’d wished both Man of Steel and to an extent Batman Vs. Superman had ended, so on a theoretical level at least I applaud this, even if I was so completely numbed by the preceding eighty-nine hours of blandness that I couldn’t bring myself to care about the actuality of it.
Unfortunately for the rest of the film the Russos and their ominous Marvel overlords have succumbed to the temptation to make this a full Avengers film in all but name, rather than the smaller scale side story it should have been. As such the massive, star laden returning cast are given about five lines each in which to vainly attempt to inject their personalities and character, leaving a film strewn with underserved side arcs that are abandoned without hope of resolution, making the whole thing wildly unsatisfying on a dramatic level.
A common fault amongst the ‘serious’ Marvel Studios films, it appears. They appear to be under the delusion that these paper-thin, computer generated marionettes that populate their films are in some way capable of having real human emotion mapped on to them, which is charming but divorced from reality. The dafter entries, like Ant-Man work by having an awareness of the stupidity of their situation. The serious ones are hamstrung by their pretence at being a real film, with real characters, feeling real emotions, but their decidedly unreal characters are not best suited for bearing that load.
It doesn’t help, of course, that the leads are not on their best form – Chris Evans has never shaken the reports and impression given by his turns that he doesn’t much care for this role, and the normally charismatic and dependable Downey Jr largely phones in this performance, with the exception of the odd flash in a couple of scenes, particularly those shared with the young Spider-Man.
Now, largely to amuse myself and tangentially to annoy the more rabid of the fans out there, I’ve been reviewing this in the style of the bulk of the notices for Batman vs. Superman. It’s satire, see, because I can’t for the life of me see why that was pilloried for its many logic and character issues while this gets a free pass by the same people for equally mystifying decisions, when to me it’s clear that Batman vs. Superman, for it’s faults, asks much more interesting questions about heroism, and had much better characterisation and motives for those character’s actions. Not fantastic characterisation and motives, to be sure, but anyone claiming this is better must be huffing glue.
Largely, the only feeling Captain America: Civil War was able to evoke from me was boredom, which appears to be the Marvel Studios end game. This peculiar state of affairs is even lauded by some, claiming as evidence how easy it is for all these many characters to exist in same universe when all that really means is that every character is blandly interchangeable with every other one, and this film is a real showcase for that. Sure, it’s a polished film, but in taking all the rough edges and spiky bits off it becomes a flat, dull experience with no hooks at all.
The DC and X-Men films certainly do many things worse than the Marvel films, but they also do things better. You trade a mix of moments of greatness and abject failure for boring consistency, and while your mileage may vary I know which experience I prefer.
The 1970s were dark times for Chile, particular from 1973 onwards when Thatcher’s pal Augusto Pinochet led a military coup to overthrow Salvador Allende’s government. Families were broken up, people disappeared, human rights were a mythical thing. Many questions remain unanswered, many wounds are still raw, and it means that that time and place would be ripe grounds for a scintillating and heart-rending drama. Sadly, in The Colony, all of that background is, more or less, incidental, the totalitarian nature of Pinochet’s rule allowing the events to occur, but otherwise not really impacting on the story.
As to the story, Daniel Brühl’s Daniel is a German activist and photographer, a supporter of Allende, who is rounded up by police after the coup d’etat when he attempts to take photographs of the atrocities taking place in the streets of Santiago. He is sent to Colonia Dignidad, a camp run by Nazi cult leader Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyquist), who oversees a regime of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of the “followers”. Learning of Daniel’s fate, his flight attendant girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson) infiltrates the camp by turning up dressed in dowdy, almost nun-like clothes, and asking “can I come in please”. She then proceeds to spend several months being humiliated, drugged and working as a slave so that she can save him. Yeah, it’s not the best though-out plan I’ve ever heard either.
Meanwhile, Daniel is going around pretending to have been brain-damaged after the torture he endured on his arrival, and using this as a cover to take photographic evidence of what is happening at The Colony. In the end the story is too generic, and too filled with melodrama, last-minute miracles and time-sensitive dramatic imperatives. Colonia Dignidad was a real place, and the tone of this film doesn’t fit well with the true-life, soul-destroying horror of it all.
It suffers also from more or less abandoning the events of the outside world after the opening scenes, and from being from the perspective of two foreigners, rather than native Chileans, with far fewer resources and avenues of aid. It also swerves away from an exploration of the psychologies of cults, or exactly what they were doing to aid Pinochet’s regime in the camp, and instead settles for “this cult is cruel and brutal, what more do you want”?
The dialogue is full of cliché, and The Colony also does that bizarre thing of being set in a Spanish-speaking country but having everyone speak English. Now, that’s OK if you intend to sell primarily to anglophone audiences. But then, sometimes, they speak Spanish. Bye bye suspension of disbelief.
After all that, I did actually enjoy this a little, at least in a potboiler-y sort of way. But this one goes into the “missed opportunity” category – Brühl is a hugely gifted actor, and Watson at the very least very capable, and with such an interesting and important setting in time, and the fact that the place was real, and all sorts of international political collusion protected it, then this could have been a truly fascinating story.
Drones: they’re increasingly what’s for dinner in modern warfare, where remote controlled flying missile platforms can mete out explosive vengeance without the need for any of that troublesome habeas corpus, due process, day in court nonsense that really does just get in the way of justice, while also being the basis of it.
Still, all’s fair in love and war, particularly if you love war enough to declare it on a noun such as terrorism, which means there’s also the delightful frisson of invading territory without all that messy “boots on the ground” garbage.
That’s where Eye in the Sky makes its entrance, the latest entry in the small but growing slice of cinema examining drone strikes. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in command of a joint U.S.A. and British mission, to provide visual reconnaissance to support a local Kenyan operation to capture a high value target who’s supposed to be meeting a local cell.
Things go sideways when the meeting venue changes to a house in a town entirely under militia control, making his capture infeasible. As soon as some young terrorist recruits appear and start donning an explosive vest, it becomes one of those “ticking timebomb” situations, forcing Powell to reclassify this as an assassination mission, or targeted kill as I believe they’re PR-ing it these days, much to drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) dismay, given the collateral mayhem a Hellfire missile can cause in an urban area.
He pulls out the book on his superior, forcing Powell to confirm that they have legal authority on this strike which seems certain to cause the death of a young girl who is coincidentally selling flatbread from the back of a neighbouring house, on the outskirts of a market. This triggers a precession of people kicking the decision upstairs throughout the military and political channels, to the highest levels of the British and U.S.A. governments.
Meanwhile the delicate work of actually keeping tabs on the situation falls to undercover Kenyan agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), who must blag his way into the town and pilot a small surveillance drone locally, putting his life at risk if discovered and providing some real moments of tension as the diplomatic ping-pong continues.
There’s obviously been a few dramatic shortcuts taken to give the strike decision more of a moral quandary – it shouldn’t make a difference that the threat is to an innocent young girl from a family we’re explicitly shown rejecting the radical Islamic tenets of those who have taken over their home town, but of course it does. Likewise the imminent threat is another shortcut to force a quick decision, but both should really be irrelevant to the main question – is extra judicial assassination ever warranted?
It’s not my place to answer that for you, although I imagine you’ve picked up on my general feelings on the issue, but Eye in the Sky does a really good job of prompting you to answer the questions it’s raising without ever appearing to be heavy-handedly taking it’s own position. There’s reasonable arguments to be hand on both sides, at least the way they’re presented here.
The cast is uniformly excellent, not just Mirren, Abdi and Paul but all of the supporting cast which includes the likes of Iain Glen, Jeremy Northam, Phoebe Fox, and Alan Rickman in what’s sadly one his final roles. There’s a very well judged mix of tension caused by the situation and frustration to the point of laughability by the panicked responsibility dodging on display from the political side of the equation, which all adds up to one of the most compelling films about the War on Terror since The Hurt Locker.
Indeed, my only complaint is less with the film and more with the world, as it feels that disregarding whether you’re pro or anti drone strikes, this film unwittingly hints that they are all given this level of intense scrutiny. The actuality of the frequently indiscriminate nature of these strikes, the unashamedly massaged figures on the effectiveness of the targeting (such as the disgusting trick of arbitrarily determining that any of-age male killed in a drone strike is definitely a terrorist until proven otherwise), and the rate at which they’re occurring adds up to a process that’s plainly not overburdened with oversight.
But that’s not Eye in the Sky‘s fault, and indeed it’s to its credit that it raises these questions and provoke these thoughts, so it’s definitely one to put on you watch list.
It is, rather frighteningly, six years since Tim Burton first brought his take on Lewis Carroll’s “classic” to the screen. But after that film raked in an astonishing $1 billion at the box office, there was always going to be a sequel, however tardily it arrived.
Directing duties here are taken over by James Bobin, with a script once again written by Linda Woolverton. Burton’s film played fast and loose with the source novel, and actually used a substantial chunk of material from Alice Through the Looking Glass, so this film really shares little more than a title with Carroll’s second tale of Alice’s adventures.
After returning from a sea voyage, on which she was captain, Alice returns home to find some domestic issues threatening to turf her and her mother out of their home. Before we get too bedded down in these rather dreary matters, Alice finds herself pitched into Underland once more, through the mechanism of the titular looking glass. There she reunites with her friends, and finds out that the Mad Hatter is dying. He has been reminded of a tragedy from his childhood, but is now convinced that his family, whom he had thought dead at the claws of the Jabberwock, are alive.
Nobody believes him, so Hatter is intent on sulking himself to death, until Alice agrees to help him for some reason (Depp’s Mad Hatter is every bit the tiresome, eccentric, wacky, irritating presence that he was in the first film). To this end, Alice sets off to Time’s castle to obtain the Chronosphere, a device that will allow her to travel back in time and discover the fate of the Mad Hatter’s family. By doing so, though, she risks destroying the universe and time itself, and the personification of Time chases her to recover the device.
Time is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, and he really is the high point of the film, even if his choice of a Herzog-esque accent is a little peculiar. Not that he strikes too high, but he’s pretty far above most everyone else. Helena Bonham-Carter’s huge-noggined Red Queen returns, but she mostly whines like a spoilt brat, and doesn’t have the requisite glee in the character that might make it actually work (though she does have an origin story, which is obviously what everyone was crying out for). Anne Hathaway is wooden, there’s a terrible Scottish accent from Paul Whitehouse for us all to get offended by, while Mia Wasikowska is game as the heroine, but never really stretched. It is sad to hear, albeit briefly, Alan Rickman’s sonorous tones, though even if Bobin had had more time with him I doubt it would have helped.
The visual style is what bothers me most – while it is a fantastical place, and is necessarily computer-generated, it shares with its predecessor that same ennui engendered by such a wilfully unrealistic place. There are moments of interesting design – Time’s castle and its inhabitants being the most notable – but it’s, frankly, visually exhausting, and offers numerous opportunities to use the word “lurid”, instead of a more appealing “colourful”. If you like the style, then I imagine you will get much more from this film than I did, though it just rattles through the different fantastical locations without really revelling in them as it might.
It’s not exactly accurate to call this a sequel to Cloverfield, perhaps more of a side story. But I’ll take what I can get, seeing as all attempts at a big monster movie since then have fallen rather flat. Admittedly, that’s a list of Godzilla and Pacific Rim, but the point remains.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving away from problems in her relationship, only to have someone drive into her. When she awakes after the accident, she finds that she’s been taken to Howard (John Goodman)’s underground shelter, and while being locked in a room doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, the bunker’s other inhabitant Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) seems to back up Howard’s crazy story about the end of the world going on outside.
Whether Howard’s right about that or not, it soon becomes apparent that Howard’s mental moorings are none too secure, and there’s a very real suspicion that there’s other skeletons in Howard’s cupboard that would make him even less trustworthy than his out-there survivalist act would imply.
At the risk of perhaps damning this with a faint recap, that’s about as much detail as I feel it’s worth going into without spoiling things about the lead up to the final act, where it’s clear that this is indeed set in the same universe as Cloverfield
There’s a good amount of tension built up by Goodman’s consistently creepy performance and exactly how much faith Michelle and Emmett should be putting in his version of events, and it mines that for all that it’s worth and a little more. In fact, it’s doing such a good job of that aspect that it makes the final act a little difficult to get behind, as it feels like an abrupt change in genre thats’s a little off-putting.
But not enough to really put me off liking the film well enough. A good amount of tension, well-written characters and an intriguing setting make this an engaging and enjoyable watch, and a pleasant little surprise. Well worth looking at.
If we had to explain what’s happened to the X-Men universe’s timelines over the past few films we’d be here all day, so let’s politely skip over the timeline resetting implications of Days of Future Past and just call this a sequel to First Class, which isn’t far away from accurate.
Besides, we’re headed back in time again to kick this off as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the nasty git, is ruling over ancient Egypt in his role as “most powerful mutant”, but rebels seize an opportunity to off him during a ritual that, we later find out, lets him claim the powers and vitality of other mutants, which is how he became so powerful. Taking advantage of this moment of vulnerability they attack, but are partially thwarted by his minions, with Apocalypse left in suspended animation rather than cessated.
It remains that way until he’s dug up by cultists in the heady future of the 1980’s, whereupon he goes about assembling a new squad of elite goons, gaining their trust with promises of ruling a new world and also by enhancing their powers. His new wingmen are a young thief who can control the weather best known as Storm (Alexandra Shipp), an arse-kicking, psyblade wielding Psylock (Olivia Munn), a literal wingman in the shape of winged brawler Angel (Ben Hardy), and finally our favourite metal bending madman, Uri Geller. Wait, no. Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
Magneto had apparently settled down and become a family man after being thwarted in First Class, but after saving a fellow worker in a foundry from a squashy iron-based demise his cover is blown, attracting the attention of the fuzz. When sent to arrest him they accidentally kill his wife and daughter, giving him just the right blend of rage and nihilism to jump on board Apocalypse’s masterplan of “kill everyone”. It’s never particularly well explained, but it seems to be of the general survival of the fittest, destroy all this decadent comfort to forge us into better, stronger, faster people. Oh Apocalypse, you daft punk.
Just the sort of thing you’d need the X-Men to counter, except unfortunately they don’t really exist. With peace having more or less broken out in the last decade or so, the spandex has been retired around Xavier (James McAvoy)’s school in favour of actual teaching for once. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), or Beast to his mates, is still around to mentor the new generation of young ‘uns, including powerful telepath Sansa Stark, sorry, Jean Gray (Sophie Turner), and the boy with kaleidoscope laser eyes, Scott ‘Cyclops’ Summers (Tye Sheridan).
They get the band back together when shape shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) shows up, with Kurt ‘Nightcrawler’ Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in tow, having saved him from a beating at the hands/wings of Angel. She warns them of the coming threat and, after a bit of arm twisting, convinces Xavier to get back on a war footing and train up the youngsters to fight alongside them, and the returning sports racer Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who wants to talk some sense into his unknowing father, Magneto.
And so it goes, with yet more landmark buildings getting destroyed via CG and with the punching and the kicking, oi vey. The CG battles look fine, but the main interest really only comes in seeing the new mutants show off their powers. Dramatically the fights are a little flat, and as with all of these blockbusters the final act suffers accordingly.
X-Men: Apocalypse gets an easier time from me than Civil War because a lot of the earlier CG showcases are rather more imaginative than the Marvel outing, particularly a Quicksilver scene that, admittedly, is similar to previous examples, bit no less enjoyable for it.
Likewise, for all of my bitching about the Civil War‘s cacophony of characters, which is just as prevalent here, they’re all given moments in direct service of the main conflict, as opposed to Civil War which is using them as sequel hooks. Also, by this point in the franchise you can count McAvoy and Fassbender being familiar enough with the characters to provide the moral conflict effectively and efficiently.
Sadly the actual physical conflict is rather less interesting, not just in terms of the CG finale, but Apocalypse as a character isn’t all that interesting, and poor Oscar Issac’s not given much to do other than issue an entirely generic series of standard issue megalomaniacal rants.
Even if it ends with a bit of a whimper, the preceding two hours are entertaining enough, although again this could do with loosing at least half an hour of that. Of course, part of the entertainment comes from the prequel trilogies different time frames, so it’s a veritable cavalcade of 80’s references to enjoy or be irritated by, depending on your outlook.
The X-Men universe has always done a better job of mixing the drama with enough levity to keep things fun, and it’s really here that DC should be looking for inspiration rather than the Marvel Studios output. What it shouldn’t be doing is sniffing their own farts to the degree that Bryan Singer has of late, calling the X-Men series “grounded and serious”, which shows a worrying detachment from reality.
All of these films, DC, X-Men, Marvel, are stupid escapism and CG showreels of varying quality. They’re live action cartoons, and should be viewed as such, bearing in mind that you’re not going to get any real emotional or dramatic depth. That’s why the best of these are the ones that don’t forget it, and why neither of the two we’ve spoken about today are better than Deadpool. Still, _X-Men: Apocalypse takes second place in the rankings this year, so far at least, and if you still have the appetite for comic book adaptations it’s a solid choice.
When Melissa McCarthy is funny she’s generally very, very funny – Bridesmaids, The Heat (even with the handicap of Sandra Bullock), Spy. And when she’s not funny, she’s in Identity Thief. What those first 3 films have in common is that they were all directed by Paul Feig. The Boss is not, so alarm bells should already be ringing. It is instead directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, from a script penned by McCarthy, Falcone and Identity Thief scribe Steve Mallory.
The story is about Michelle Darnel, an orphan constantly rejected by prospective families and returned to the orphanage, who grows up to be an enormously wealthy cross between Frank TJ Mackey and, going by the stage show that follows the opening rejection montage, Iggy Azalea. How exactly she became so successful is left largely unaddressed, but we quickly find out that she is guilty of insider trading, a crime of which she is convicted after the authorities are tipped off by a spurned lover and business rival (a wasted and, frankly, piss-poor, Peter Dinklage).
After being released from prison (after a mere 6 months, because it was “a white collar crime, and doesn’t count” – one of several failed attempts the film makes at satire) Darnell finds herself friendless, homeless, and penniless, and turns up on the doorstep of her put-upon former PA Claire (Kristen Bell). From here, she sets about restoring her business empire, with the obvious first-step being to weaponise (almost literally) the door-to-door cookie selling business of Claire’s daughter’s girl scout troop.
McCarthy’s character is all over the place – one moment a buffoonish clown, next a razor-sharp tycoon, and then an emotional cripple terrified of family, and it never feels cohesive. Likewise the plot, which drops or switches threads when it feels it can get a cheap gag to work. There are certainly funny moments – adolescent girls and their mothers beating the snot out of each other in a gang fight on the streets was always going to be a winner – but they are few and far between.
I almost wasn’t going to mention this, but since it played on my mind so much I think I should – in every scene McCarthy wears turtlenecks, scarfs or some other high-collar clothing to hide her neck. I’m assuming she’s hiding some form of surgery scar, though it could be that it is simply an affectation the writers have given the character. However, it’s never mentioned, and it’s such an out of place look that it becomes distracting. That’s a minor issue, however, compared to the fact that it’s simply not consistently funny enough. Melissa McCarthy deserves better fare than this, and the squelchy, sentimental, plotline does her no favours, though she, literally, has only herself to blame here.
Holland March (Ryan Gosling) might be one of LA’s best private detectives when he’s not drunk, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a window where he’s not self-medicating with bourbon after the loss of his wife. Which seems a little harsh on his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), who’s by default the responsible one in the family.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a bit like a kissogram, except rather than delivering a message with a smack on the lips, it’s a more generalised, full body smackdown. He’s thinking about getting out of the hired thug game, but not before delivering a beating to Holland warning him off pursing his latest case.
However when Healy is double-crossed, he goes back to Holland and proposes they team up and continue the cast, trying to track down, if you’ll permit some simplification, the reasons why people associated with a recently shot porn film keep showing up dead. Of course, Things Are Not What They Seem, and a number of twists and turns see Healy and Holland up against an unlikely powerful interest not afraid to silence anyone who stands in their way.
Which sounds a bit grim, but as with the similarly themed Shane Black outing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang it’s played for laughs more than drama. Indeed, the short for of this review essentially boils down to “if you liked Kiss Kiss“, and you’re not a monster, of course you liked Kiss Kiss, “then you’ll like The Nice Guys“.
Gosling plays a fine, pathetic loser role, showing just enough of the decent human being he was at one point to keep him likeable despite his actions, and he has a very fine panicked yelp. There’s good chemistry between him and Crowe, who’s also doing a good job of taking a not particularly sympathetic character and engendering sympathy for them.
Crucially, they all have pretty good comic timing, which helps in making this the funniest and most enjoyable film I’ve seen in a cinema since Deadpool. I hear conflicting reports on how easy to follow the narrative is – I didn’t have too much trouble, but to be honest it’s so ludicrous that there’s not much point treating it as more than a loose linking device anyway.
So, some nice action scenes, great performances, sharp dialogue, and overall a very funny buddy cop outing, the likes of which are sadly all-too rare these days. Highly enjoyable, and well worth seeking out.
“Based on the hit video game” is most commonly a dire warning when it comes to film, so I figured it’d be interesting to see if that remains the case when a hefty budget is thrown at it and more importantly, a director who’s previous work I’ve been rather fond of took the helm. I’ve no great experience with the game of late, having touched nary a second of the phenomenally popular World of Warcraft. I think I played a bit or Warcraft 3 back in the early 2000’s, and some of the recent card game Hearthstone, but that’s not helpful when talking about the lore of the world, if you will, so I’m essentially coming to the film as I’d assume the majority of the target audience would – essentially blind, maybe knowing the name, but little else.
So, we’re introduced to Duncan Jones’ CG-heavy take on the material as a warband of orcs chieftained by the necromancer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) opens a portal from their dying home to the world of Azeroth, a currently peaceful high fantasy land of humans, dwarves, elves and anything else from The Lord of the Rings than Blizzard wanted to nick back in the day. In this film though, we’re only really concerned with the humans, headed by King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper).
When word reaches him that villages are being pillaged and the villagers hauled off, he dispatches right hand man Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) to findout what’s going on, and to raise the AWOL Guardian of the Realm Medivh (Ben Foster), a powerful magician. On the way Lothar stumbles across a rather less powerful but still pretty useful mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer).
There’s some discontent in the ranks of the orcs, however, as while their warchief and many of his minions are on-board the conquest trail, some notice that their home hadn’t been dying before this necromancy fiesta started, and that same corruption has followed them through to Azeroth. Almost as though they’re the baddies. In particular the Frostwolf Clan, headed by Durotan (Toby Kebbell), figures out he’d better contact the humans and ask for their help in overthrowing Gul’dan and restoring honour to the Orc clans.
Acting as a bridge between the human and orc protagonists is Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton) who is as her name implies, who agrees to help the humans. Can these alliances hold, and has the corruption of the fell magic Gul’dan wields affected any of those in Azeroth?
These are the questions that Jones hopes will sustain the mercifully restrained two hour narrative, leading up to the climactic battle between the humans and orcs. And, well, it just about does, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s a tough film to really go to bat for.
If you’ve paid any attention to the reviews, this has been almost universally buried, and I’m almost left wishing I could be overwhelmingly positive to provide some balance. However Warcraft doesn’t provide all that much excitement, so it’s difficult to translate that into a strong defence.
There’s a very strong and consistent aesthetic applied to the world, which makes the Orcs much more relatable and impressive than I’d have expected, but at the cost of it making the human’s world look a tiny bit weird. Not bad, exactly, but off-putting enough to start triggering whatever the uncanny valley analogue for buildings and such would be. It left me with the distinct impression that the CG stylistics were unsettled.
Narratively it’s no more than competent. It manages a somewhat rare trick of having a great many things going on, but not making much of it seem all that important, leading to a final battles that wasn’t all that engaging.
Performance-wise, the orcs seem to get more attention and characterisation than the humans do, which is nice, but it does rather leave Dominic Cooper in particular, but really all of the human cast rather spinning their wheels with under-developed characters, making the piece feel a little thin and flimsy.
While there’s a couple of barbed lines and lighter moments, for the most part everything in presented very seriously and straight-laced, and I’m left with the impression of it being very po-faced. There’s just not enough fun on display, which is perhaps the heart of my complaints with the film. It’s a more-or-less competent piece of filmmaking, but it’s no fun, and that’s really what I want from this.
So then, overall it’s resoundingly mediocre, which is still much better than the slew of negative reviews would imply, but it’s hard to recommend anyone, even fans of fantasy films, make much of an effort to see this. I’m heartened somewhat by its huge success in China, which should guarantee a sequel on that nation’s returns alone, not necessarily as vindication for the film but because there’s a good setting for stories in the World of Warcraft that I’d like to see better utilised, especially given that we’re hardly over-run with other fantasy film options.
Warcraft: The Beginning isn’t a great film, but it’s a reasonable base from which to build something great. I’ll look forward to that film, but in all likelihood I will entirely forget about this one.
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