Movies based off of video games are tough, plain and simple. With recent failures like Prince of Persia and Pixels, the genre can really come and go in an instant. This year we’re getting two big video game adaptations, with one looking better than the other. The first, hitting theaters in early June, is Duncan Jones‘ Warcraft. Based off the bestselling online massive multiplayer game, the film originally had many people hoping that it could refuel the genre, but the early reviews have just hit and things aren’t looking too good for it.
The multiple trailers and TV spots we have had so far for Warcraft show a very fantastical world with huge battles between humans and orcs. Those wonderful designs were brought on by Jones utilizing very sophisticated motion-capture technology to bring the orc species and the medieval world to life. The film’s visuals look undeniably amazing, although that’s definitely not the only thing it needs to succeed with audiences and critics. Many of the first reviews praise the special effects but point out the weak story and how the live-action elements unfortunately don’t always blend that well with the orc characters. More critics should release their opinions sometime soon, but in the meantime check out the first ones below.
The Hollywood Reporter – For non-aficionados, the two-hour experience could be more concise, but it’s no ordeal. Neither, though, is it consistently involving. If you haven’t already invested in the self-serious mythology, it can feel borderline camp, if not downright dull. But the movie is character-driven every step of the way. That’s why, even if the world created by Jones and his talented design collaborators, both old-school physical and cutting-edge digital, isn’t seamlessly believable so much as staggeringly crafted, it casts a spell.
The Telegraph – Two Stars – It’s easy to predict whether Duncan Jones’s take on the world-conquering online role-playing game World Of Warcraft is for you. If you take delight in names like ‘Orgrim Doomhammer’ and have a high tolerance for randomly scattered apostrophes and superfluous “h”’s, it could be your film of the summer. If not, you should avoid it at all costs. While there’s something admirable in Jones’s steadfast adherence to naff fantasy tropes, it makes no concession to fans of realism.
The Guardian – Two Stars – There’s a lot going on and yet we’re never quite engaged with it. In The Lord of the Rings, we had the Shire, the Hobbits’ idyllic pastoral realm, as an image of what everyone was fighting for. Here, we barely see Azeroth outside the royal castles and wizards’ towers and epic battlegrounds. The heavy use of CGI, and its occasionally awkward interactions with the live-action elements, only serves to distance us even more. Much processing power has been put in the service of spectacular, bludgeoning combat, but the images are somehow insubstantial, and we rarely feel the heat of the battle.
Variety – With its meticulously detailed realms built out primarily on soundstages and enhanced via CGI during extensive post-production, it aims for fresh and eye-popping and yet ends up shopworn and rather tacky. Boasting more than 2,000 visual effects shots, it’s dispiriting to think about the time, energy, planning and precision that went into Warcraft when the final product brings to mind those animated advertisements for iPhone app games. So good at making the most outlandish elements of his first two films seem completely credible, Jones can’t find a way to get this cartoony spectacle to soar. His heartfelt approach to the material only underlines the silliness.
Screen Daily – The CG and motion capture work that goes into the orc characters and most of the sets is impressive but it doesn’t always meld easily with the live action.The film ends up feeling unconvincing and generic, with nothing to compare to either the dramatic heft of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or the raunch and gore of Game of Thrones.
The Wrap – One Star – Imagine Battlefield Earth without the verve and you get this sludgy, tedious fantasy adventure, a fun-starved dud that’s not even unintentionally hilarious.
It’s a shame that Warcraft probably isn’t going to be as great as some may be hoping. It has potential, a lot of talent, and an intriguing concept, which many other blockbusters these days fail to possess. As more reviews trickle in, it’s very possible the general consensus could shoot up, there’s just no way to tell right now. And if it doesn’t pan out in the end, the next video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed, hitting theaters this December, looks like it could easily be one of the best films of year. So, stay tuned.
Warcraft opens in the U.S. on June 10, 2016.