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“Warcraft” lacks heart despite great visuals

warcraft-movie-poster-full_987.0.0Every summer has that one movie which tries so hard to be the next big ticket. Yet it fails to deliver regardless of its good intentions. In short, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Warcraft” ends up with “Waterworld,” “Krull” and “Dune” for having great eye-candy yet short on story. There is great promise with a good director like Duncan Jones and the effects have certainly evolved to bring this RPG world to life. The creatures look amazing and the world itself is a visual marvel. The only ingredient missing here is substance and a reason to care for our main leads.

Two major problems really hamper with the overall enjoyment. The first being the story. In a grand fantasy epic, there should be room for all sorts of subplots and concepts which this movie injects. A group of orcs travel from their world by a dimension and enter a realm that is a Diet Coke version of Middle-Earth. Instead of settling in, the new neighbors decide to rampage and pillage as I guess war is part of the orc code.

Then again, battling kingdoms was part of the video game its based from, so I can’t be too negative on that. But what bothers me is the multitude of story lines and things that come from this. One minute, a king is trying to investigate these invaders, then we get an orc chief who is questioning the traditions of his tribe, then we get a hybrid orc who is trying to find a place to belong, a young sorcerer who comes across a conspiracy, an elder sorcerer who is trying to help out and so forth. The movie alone is just a mere 2 hours and already, it packs too much. I would be fine with the abundance of plot lines, but nothing seems to come together or pay off. Things do in the climatic battle, but it has a rushed delivery just so it can set itself up for a franchise it hopes to happen.

3067953-img4And that brings me to the second problem, this movie doesn’t have a way to portray its characters well. I can tell you, I barley remember a single motive from the human characters that made them interesting. There a lose motive going about which doesn’t seem to bring anything close at hand. The only element that is creating the story is the orc’s plan to merge the rest of their army from their doomed home world.  And sadly, that’s about it. There is nothing compelling or even remotely interesting because we never dive into how the characters feel about what’s going on.

In “Lord of the Rings,” everything was banking on this one device to bring damage to the world. And while the hobbits took their journey, time was given to help you understand these heroes and how they are associated with each other. I feel at times “Warcraft” is holding itself back to avoid dragging the story out when there is little there. As one who never played the video game, I want to know more about the orc customs and the way the world works. But the execution feels like only fans of the game will get it while leaving newcomers confused. In fact, there’s all these dwarfs and elves running about in the world, so why don’t they do more than just stand there?

Regardless of its faults, there is some good to behold here. The motion capture effects on the orcs are outstanding to look at. I was worried it would look too “cartoony” but seeing them on the big screen really helps. You can see skin texture and the jagged details on the teeth. And for a CGI heavy movie, the sets and battle scenes are nice to watch. Truly its a case were the visuals certainly overpower the story here.

warcraft-movie6-1200x675One or two characters do get a chance to shine. I liked how the orc chief Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is caught between honoring tradition or knowing when things are right and wrong. And Paula Patton as a human/orc hybrid named Garona is also interesting to watch as she tries to figure what side to be on. These two characters worked because you felt there was an arc going on. With the impending war at hand, these two start to question not just their ethics but also what place they belong in. These two really make the movie work for me.

As far as everything else goes, “Warcraft” seems to cram too much into itself. From learning the nature and world of the game to what kind of plot we are dealing with, this is the kind of movie where it enters this world and lets things loose. Perhaps I would have been a tad more kinder if the plot was more simple and our leads had more care and development. The only way I see this working is if the running time was longer and certain elements were given more explanation to new viewers. While I’m glad I saw this one, I’m still disappointed to see how far it falls short of being a great summer blockbuster. I only see myself recommending “Warcraft” if your a fan of the video games or one who likes fantasy movies that are more on eye-candy and less on story. There’s a lot of stuff I did enjoy and certainly this is not one of the worst. But sadly, its another video game adaptation that makes you want to play a character in the world than rather sit down and watch it.

“Fantastic” dud, I didn't hit anything on accident. That is how I feel about this one.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…, I didn’t hit anything on accident. That is how I feel about this one.

I recall last year seeing a high school performance of the “Beauty and the Beast” musical with a friend of mine. It was a study for play performances and this was a last minute choice. Let me tell you, everything looked like an Ed Wood movie. 75% of the cast wore wigs, 75% of the cast was mostly female and the beast costume looked like the Cowardly Lion’s twice removed cousin. But you know what, it was entertaining. Something about seeing the cast trying to perform under all the bad make-up and cheap sets was far more entertaining then the junk I had to see today.

The plot (that is if you can call it one) involves a science prodigy named Reed Richards (Miles Teller) who creates a machine in his garage that transports matter to another dimension. A scientist named Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) notices this at a science fair Reed attends and uses not just the machine but Reed’s skills to perfect his similar creation. The craft in general looks like a bunch of radioactive barrels with two solar panels hovering above it. This is only a sample of how “fantastic” the look of this movie gets.

Upon learning some government executives plan to send other scientists in, one of the creators Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) convinces Reed and two other colleges to be the first to try it out. As one would expect, mayhem ensues with them gaining bizarre abilities after their disastrous visit. Again, its hard to say if there is a real story here as the rest of the movie has our main characters cooped up in an army bunker as Reed and the survivors of the accident are coaxed into working for the government.

The story as a whole meanders so much it makes me wonder how can you not deliver a single storyline with something like this. Then again, the Fantastic Four adaptions do have a strange history of their travels to the big screen ranging from Roger Corman’s produced and (as of this review) infamously unreleased affair to Tim Story’s two films. It appears the idea of taking a team of people getting superpowers and using something with them could make for an interesting film. But only this latest reboot proves that executives and writers make it hard for themselves thinking there is no material to work with when their could be.

Last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” worked by having no origin story and only focusing on how the team members got together while delivering a fun and unique ride thanks to James Gunn. “Fantastic” seems to focus on the main characters and where they stand but it doesn’t go anywhere until the last 30 minutes when an actual plot happens but its far too soon. Most of time, the team is being manipulated by an evil government agent (or a possible scientist. either way, he’s dressed like an evil government agent so why not? Also he is played by Tim Blake Nelson) or trying to pick around for something to do. It appears there are ideas for spin-off films here and there as Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is off fighting in other nations in news reports, Reed Richards is playing “Borne Identity” in Panama while trying to find a cure and Victor is very much forgotten in the other dimension until the last half-hour. The amount of space is at a waste.

The biggest crime of all has to be the acting performances. Not a single human being in this movie emotes or even acts interested. Most of the time, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) talks in a robotic manner while keeping a hush tone. I barley remember a moment when one solitary person gave a smile or cared for another when in danger. Even the romantic chemistry between Reed and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is interesting as toast as they try to share some interest of science but have odd John Hughes quirks. Some like Jamie Bell try but it feels like they know there is nothing to work with in a story that is so next to nothing. Reg E. Cathey gets a much deserved examination for how that actor never breaks his dull performance. I guess he’s trying to be Samuel Jackson-ish by being serious and dead pan. But when he carries this trait throughout the whole movie, it makes me want to cut every scene he is in to avoid such an annoying delivery. When words came out his mouth, I wanted to sleep.

Even more bizarre is the tone as the opening of the movie is reminiscent to Joe Dante’s “Explorers” as young Reed and Ben try out the homemade dimension jump device but then things keep changing throughout. First, it tries to be a serious science fiction movie then cranks up the intensity in spots that look more brutal than passable for viewers when its not needed.

Sure enough, it all ends in a climax that looks vaguely similar to “Man of Steel” as Doom shows up and plans to somehow destroy both Earth and the new planet in the dimension. How can such a travesty be averted? They have a fight scene on the uninteresting, CGI laden set while throwing debris and junk at Doom. Its formulaic and doesn’t have flair. Again, “Guardians” had risk with Star Lord, Drax and Groot making their way to stop the villain who was floating his way down to the planet to obliterate it. For support, you had Rocket and a team trying to prevent the ship from touching the planet and Gamora trying to shut down the security system while dealing with her sister. Sounds complex on paper but those two sentences described an energetic, engaging, on the edge climax that build and builds. Once the big fight happens, it evaporates like celluloid dust in hopes the film will end sooner.

Even prior to the release, “Fantastic Four” has been slammed by fans for being inaccurate to the source by changing certain things like the Human Torch being portrayed by an African American and certain character relationships. Most strange is how Sue Storm is adoptive but is never fully discussed. Something that wasn’t elaborated on that lead me to believe Doom and Sue were siblings when they weren’t. It was just information that wasn’t heavily addressed. Still, that didn’t bother me as much but what really did was the workings of the script, the performances and the overall movie in general. Why bank on Doctor Who and Rick and Morty with dimension jumping? Is outer space not interesting enough? Because that is how our leads got those powers in the process with the exception of Doom getting his from a lab accident. I went in with an open mind thinking this movie would be ok but it turned out to be worse than I imagined.

This is not an adaptation that reflects the source while giving viewers of new something to appreciate. It does the opposite by giving nothing to both parties in return. Even the character motives are standard and dull as an expedition to the new world is crafted from Doom’s drunk escapade as the evil government agent exploits the team for every other reason why this kind of guy would. Because this team has ultimate powers and as always in these kind of scenarios, the government wants control of that power. Yawn, yawn, yawn, double-yawn and deep sleep. I hope viewers who read this review are smart enough to see a more “fantastic” movie in the theater next door. At least “Howard the Duck” was far more inventive, creative and unique in comparison.