Warcraft: The Beginning

Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu

Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Charles Leavitt, Duncan Jones

I didn’t play much of the Warcraft games growing up. I gave World of Warcraft a go when I was 14 or 15 but never got into it the way some of my friends did. My knowledge of this universe with its expansive history and lore was thus little better than one being introduced to Warcraft for the very first time. Adapting such a universe into a movie franchise is tricky. There’s so much to share and yet so little space in which to include it. Sometimes introducing an audience to a world of magic, myth and adventure can be as simple as starting with “a long time ago in a galaxy far away”, but there are still many movies that make the mistake of dumping exposition or failing to establish their own rules. The Lord of the Rings trilogy however proved that such an adaptation can work. And so, considering the story this film wanted to tell and the space in which it had to tell it, I think that Warcraft: The Beginning did a pretty decent job.

The orc world of Draenor is being destroyed by a mysterious force called fel magic, and so the orcs must search for a new home under the leadership of the warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). They enter the world of Azeroth through a portal and begin their colonisation campaign by raiding human settlements. Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the military leader of Stormwind, is sent to deal with these raids and ends up meeting the mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). He tells him that he has found traces of fel magic in their world, leading Anduin to call a meeting with Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), the king of Stormwind. Llane sends Anduin and Khadgar to find Medivh (Ben Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal, hoping that he might hold the knowledge they seek. Their investigation soon leads them to Garona (Paul Patton), a half-orc warrior who pledges herself to Stormwind. Meanwhile Durotan (Toby Kebbell), orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, starts to believe that Gul’dan’s channelling of fel magic is too dangerous and will cause Azeroth to suffer the same fate as Draenor. He therefore tries to reach out to the humans to form an alliance for the sake of both of their peoples.

One of the movie’s weaknesses is the sheer abundance of names and places that the audience is expected to remember while following this story. 30-45 minutes into the movie I was still trying to sort out who was who and what was happening where. Once I had a basic idea of all these things though I found that I was actually rather engaged by the story. It was difficult to keep track of but when it finally came down to the final battle I was both interested and invested. While the intricacies of the plot could be distracting and messy, I was still drawn into the larger story being told about two vastly different cultures struggling to overcome their differences in order to face a greater threat. The obstacles and perceptions that have to be overcome are great, perhaps insurmountable, and this film simply lays the groundwork for what will be a much larger conflict told over successive chapters. To that end I think the movie is satisfactory. It may not have astounded me the way it wanted to but I am interested in seeing what comes next.

One aspect of the games that this film has down to a tee is the look. From the different species and creatures to the cities and landscapes right down to the oversized armour and mystical auras, this game looks exactly like the World of Warcraft that I remember. Although the visuals do have a tendency to look cartoony, I think that can be forgiven in an adaptation of a video game franchise with a cartoony design. The area where the film probably struggles the most is with its characters. While I didn’t find them to be badly written or acted, there were just too many for the film to keep track of. There were a few standouts like Kebbell as Durotan, the orc who believes his people are losing their way, and Patton as Garona, who feels torn between two different cultures that both regard her as an outsider. The rest of the characters left large enough impressions that I could remember who was who, but that’s about all they did.

I think it’s fair to say that I liked Warcraft: The Beginning more than I expected to. It is messy and it is overstuffed with characters and plot details but not to the extent that I couldn’t enjoy the film. Once I got past the stage of working out what exactly was going on, I was able to enjoy it for the epic fantasy adventure that it wants to be. For those like myself who are not intimately familiar with the games and their universe, the film is not inaccessible to them. So far as I can recall there are not any excessive exposition dumps to scavenge through, no confusing plot developments that only make sense if you’ve done your homework and no gratuitous fan service that gets in the way. Warcraft: The Beginning isn’t a film that will have you deeply invested in its compelling characters or blown away by the massive scale and scope of its action like The Lord of the Rings did. However it is a fun and sometimes thrilling movie with neat visuals that has piqued my interest enough for me to return for the next instalment.



In the Heart of the Sea

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendon Gleeson

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Charles Leavitt

When I went to see this film it was being shown at a surprise screening. There was of course much speculation within the audience over what the secret film was going to be. When the title was finally revealed and the film began I remember hearing a collective groan from the crowd and I even saw a few walkouts. I could understand the disappointment. After all of the anticipation and speculation I think people were expecting a film with a bit more buzz going for it. It seemed clear to me that the reason this film had opted for a surprise screening was because people were more likely to get excited for a mystery film than for this one. The truth is that I hadn’t been particularly excited by the trailer and so there’s a good chance I might not have ever gone to see this film of my own accord. Nevertheless I had paid my ticket and was willing to give this film a fair chance.

The film depicts the real-life story that Moby Dick was based on and opens with the author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) tracking down Tom Nickerson (Brendon Gleeson), a survivor of an ill-fated voyage. Nickerson reluctantly recalls the tale of the Essex, the memory of which still haunts him to his core. Also on this voyage was the seasoned first-mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and the inexperienced captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). The turbulent whaling expedition takes a catastrophic turn when the ship is attacked by a whale of gargantuan size and of a strangely antagonistic will. In the aftermath of this attack the crew is left stranded in the open sea and is met with the prospect of succumbing to starvation, despair and to nature herself. Nickerson recounts with the heavy heart the desperate measures the crew resorted to in order to survive.

In the Heart of the Sea is by all means a well-made film. The sets and costumes allow for an admirable recreation of 19th century New England, the visual effects used to create the whale are decent and the film does communicate a strong sense of hopelessness and dread as the crew struggles to survive. I think my problem with the film though is that it just didn’t bring anything new to the table and therefore didn’t leave any sort of an impact on me. A couple of years ago I remember watching the story of the Essex in the BBC movie The Whale, a film that managed to hit the same beats and leave the same sort of impression on me despite its significantly smaller production. Although there were some minor differences like the inclusion of Herman Melville in this film, it was essentially the same movie with a larger budget, a more famous cast and a bit of 3D thrown in. This isn’t to say that In the Heart of the Sea is a rip-off or anything like that. My point is simply that it doesn’t attempt to break any new ground or venture any deeper into this story despite the talent and the resources at its disposal.

The film is directed by Ron Howard who for the most part does a reasonable job. He delivers the tension when it is needed and does a great job of emphasising the passage of time during the crew’s ordeal. Through this the film is able to convey a strong sense of the prolonged anguish of these characters, thus accentuating their growing desperation. However I didn’t feel like the film needed to be in 3D as it neglected to take any real advantage of the technology short of propelling a few objects towards the screen. The cast delivers mostly standard performances with the most notable highlight probably being Brendon Gleeson as a man haunted by the trauma inflicted upon him and the actions he committed in order to survive.

While I can’t say that I disliked this film I wasn’t very impressed by it either. Although the technical aspects of it are well done and the story and characters are adequate, there just isn’t anything exceptional about it. In the Heart of the Sea tries to be a great, sweeping epic (like Moby Dick for instance) but lacks the depth and magnitude to pull it off. The characters are passable but are not especially interesting or memorable. The story is decent but it failed to captivate or move me in any meaningful way. The moments of danger and desolation are well-executed and do manage to provide tension when it’s needed but ultimately they never had me at the edge of my seat and they weren’t realised as fully as I think they could’ve been. As the mystery film of a secret screening it certainly didn’t live up to the hype or suspense. Instead what it amounts to is a sometimes technically impressive but otherwise generally standard film.