‘Warcraft’ fails to translate games to big screen

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Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is the standout character of the dull, lifeless "Warcraft."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

There’s a new Ambien, and it’s called “Warcraft.” While fans of the “Warcraft” video game franchise are more than happy to stage massive battles between orcs and humans, they might find sitting through the film a tiresome feat.

General audiences will similarly find little joy in watching armor-clad actors battle green, CGI monsters.  They won’t bother to sift through the endless stream of fantasy words director Duncan Jones throws their way. They won’t buy into the film’s intensely serious tone — they’d probably find the endeavor more laughable than epic.

There are two main heroes in “Warcraft.” The first is Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), a military commander of Azeroth. The second is Durotan (Toby Kebbell), a chieftain hailing from the Horde, an army of orcs.

The Horde travels from their dying planet to Azeroth through a magical portal, intending to claim this new land as their own. Lothar and his companions act to defend their home, while Durotan decides to rebel against the villainous orc leaders.

Most of the characters won’t be memorable to the uninitiated. Lothar is a discount Aragorn, and King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) is only distinguished by his ridiculous armor. “Warcraft” fans will surely recognize the wizard Medivh (Ben Foster), which means they’ll see the film’s big twist coming very early on.

Surprisingly enough, it is Durotan that Jones most successfully adapts. His cartoonish design, consisting of a disproportionately small head with broad shoulders and huge fangs, is directly lifted from the games, but never once does it feel comical. Kebbell lends the character nobility and relatability through his voice work and motion capture performance. But Durotan’s actions prove largely inconsequential, and his story becomes a waste of time.

Jones briskly takes us from scene to scene, rushing to dump out the film’s exposition before the action kicks in. For the first hour of “Warcraft,” the screenplay so relentlessly introduces the audience to characters, locations and plot points that it’s hard to pin down what is going on. By the midway point, most viewers will be too exhausted to even try.

When “Warcraft” does pause, Jones indulges in useless exercises in melodrama. He exploits Lothar, Llane and Durotan’s positions as fathers to give the film emotional weight, but the familial scenes are so few that the big moments involving their kin hardly resonate. “Warcraft” doesn’t include these human interactions to build a connection with its viewers, but to check off another box.

Perhaps the biggest misstep of “Warcraft” is its misguided effort to mature its source material. There’s nothing wrong with levity — heck, Azeroth needs it. The “Warcraft” universe is supposed to be full of silly and outlandish adventures, not a boring morality tale.

In the bestselling game of the franchise, “World of Warcraft,” players contribute to that silliness. They can make their characters dance and flirt. They focus more on leveling up than the moral ramifications of their actions. That’s all part of the fun — the reason players love returning to Azeroth time and time again.

But even they won’t return to “Warcraft.”

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  • “Warcraft”
  • Running Time: 123 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Score: 1/5 stars