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Cartoonish game adaptation 'Warcraft' will be a niche-pleaser at best
Orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is the beloved leader of the Frostwolf Clan in "Warcraft." - photo by Josh Terry
WARCRAFT 2 stars Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Daniel Wu, Clancy Brown; PG-13 (extended sequences of intense fantasy violence); in general release

Warcraft is based on the popular video game World of Warcraft, which means that reactions to the movie should fall into two distinct camps. Those unfamiliar with the game will feel like they are watching a B-movie version of The Lord of the Rings, and those familiar with the game will resent any comparisons to Tolkeins fantasy standard.

Watching Warcraft feels like eating a Chicago deep-dish pizza you bought at the grocery store. It might be a perfectly good pizza, but if youve eaten the real thing, it kind of ruins everything else.

The movie is built on basic conflict between men and Orcs in this case, Orcs being CGI monsters with huge hands and tiny heads that mostly look like variations of the Incredible Hulk.

The premise is simple: The world of the Orcs is a wasteland, and they want a new one. Led by Guldan (voiced by Daniel Wu), a nasty Orc with a knack for a green-colored magic that can strip the souls out of lesser beings, they plan to cross an interdimensional portal into the world of men, which they will conquest.

Mankind has been living in a state of relative peace with dwarves and elves but must gear up for battle when the first wave of Orcs crosses over and starts sacking villages. The men are led by Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), whose sister, Lady Taria (Ruth Negga), is queen to King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper). Lothar is also assisted by Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who was training to be part of a magic brotherhood called the Kirin Tor until he washed out.

Their opposition isnt exactly a unified front. An Orc chieftain named Durotan (voiced by Toby Kebbell) has just become a new father, and his newfound perspective is contributing to his suspicions that Guldan is leading his people to their destruction. Elsewhere, a prisoner named Garona (Paula Patton) also harbors conflicted loyalties.

Warcrafts story is unique, but the way it mines traditional fantasy character types evokes similarities to Lord of the Rings that are difficult to ignore. Aside from the men and the Orcs and the dwarves, the good guys even have a token wizard (Medivh, played by Ben Foster) fighting for them, and the inevitable comparisons leave Warcraft coming up short.

Director Duncan Jones (2009s Moon) has made a noble attempt to fashion a cinematic world of his own, but his characters lack the depth and substance to give the film any gravitas. As a result, moments designed to evoke dramatic emotion fall short, and he has a tendency like many filmmakers in the genre to substitute a lot of unexplained magic light shows for plot and logic.

Theres also the issue of the animation style. While it appears that there is plenty of talent behind Warcrafts production, there seems to be a deliberate cartoonish quality to many of the characters. Presumably the style is intended to reflect the films source material, as are the periodic scenes where the main characters gather around what looks like a three-dimensional game board to plan their strategies. But the style undermines the films impact and acts as a glass ceiling that confines Warcraft as a narrow genre piece.

The sum total, then, is a niche product that wont carry much appeal for anyone outside of the existing fan base. At best, its a piece of mindless fun. At worst, its a mediocre B-movie on a blockbuster budget. The people behind Warcraft should just hope their niche audience is enough to justify the sequel the film explicitly promotes at its end credits.

Warcraft is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence; running time: 123 minutes.
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