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Family Movie Review: Warcraft (PG-13)

Warcraft ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 123 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This fantasy-action film based on the video game includes a good amount of violence, some of it brutal (sword fights, hand-to-hand combat, bodies and heads crushed by orc axes, life forces being sucked out of people, fights to the death, stabbings, etc.); some sexual content, including flirting, some cuddling, lots of talk about “mating,” sexual tension, and the implication that a female character was previously raped; a character goes into labor and delivers a stillborn child who is later brought back to life; and some nightmarish imagery, like someone transforming into a demon.

‘Warcraft’ goes heavy on the world-building, with great production design and a serious focus on action scenes. But the film goes on too long and ends too ambiguously to make any real impact.

By Roxana Hadadi

Video game movies are few and far between these days, and with such low expectations for the genre, “Warcraft” isn’t so bad. At least it’s not as horrendously offensive as something like Adam Sandler’s “Pixels,” which was a fire-bomb of terribleness during 2015’s summer blockbuster season. But for its strong elements, like nicely detailed action scenes and a respectable cast, “Warcraft” still doesn’t make much of an impression.

This action-fantasy based on the phenomenally popular video game sticks close to its source material, with a complicated, trying-to-be-epic story. But the movie ends in such an open-ended way, with an off-putting and obvious attempt at franchise building, that it feels like most of “Warcraft” is checking off boxes.

The film focuses on a war between the humans of the world Azeroth and the orcs of the world Draenor, a battle that a voiceover in the beginning of “Warcraft” says has gone on “as long as can be remembered.” On Draenor, which is dying, the orcs are led by the shaman Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), who has a mastery of the evil magic the Fel, stylized in the film as neon green mist. Needing a new place to live, Gul’dan opens a portal into the lush, green Azeroth, sending part of the orc horde into the world to conquer it so the rest of the world can go through. But the portal can only be opened by sacrificing human life—death fuels the power of the Fel—so the orcs will need to keep some humans alive as future power sources.

The humans are, of course, shocked when the orcs appear. Warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) realizes that an entire garrison of soldiers has disappeared, and when the young sorcerer trainee Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer, of “The Book Thief”) notices that some of the dead have signs of being infected by the Fel, they decide to call upon the Guardian (Ben Foster, of “The Finest Hours”), a sorcerer who is tasked with protecting their world. The Guardian has his own kind of magic to battle the Fel and the orcs, but still, King Llane (Dominic Cooper, of “The Lady in the Van”) wants to launch a ground attack.

Can they be successful against the bigger, stronger orcs? Only if the orcs themselves decide to turn on Gul’dan, and they might, once chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell, of “Fantastic Four”) learns a secret about the shaman that could ruin him. Also questioning Gul’dan is Garona (Paula Patton, of “Baggage Claim”), a half-orc slave of the shaman’s who decides to switch sides to fight for the humans. But the outcome of the war, with so many forces coming together in such violence, is anyone’s guess.

Confused by all the names and locations and character details yet? Who could blame you? Watching “Warcraft” requires maximum attention to keep all of the video game’s terminology and mythology straight, but that also means you’ll be focused on the production design, too, which is mostly beautiful. The CGI for the orcs is noticeable but well-done, and there are so many points of visual interest—like the orc fangs and tattoos, and the human armor and royal finery, and the mystical beings like gigantic wolves and griffins—that “Warcraft” itself is often quite beautiful.

But this is still a two-hour movie that is only setting up a world, not really doing much within it. The entire endeavor feels like a stretched-out prequel, and its attempts at subplots outside of the main action—like Anduin’s tragic domestic life, Khadgar’s training in a floating city of mages, and the Guardian’s mysterious absence for six years—feel extraneous and tacked on.

“Warcraft” offers great things visually, but there isn’t much substance here otherwise. It won’t make you want to set the world on fire like “Pixels” did, but you’d be better off catching it as a rerun on cable, when you can pause and rewind and truly marvel at the design intricacies of it, rather than paying 3D prices to see it on the big screen.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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