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Warcraft

Year: 2016
Production Co: Atlas Entertainment
Studio: Universal
Director: Duncan Moon
Producer: Charles Roven
Writer: Charles Leavitt/Duncan Moon
Cast: Toby Kebbell, Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Clancy Brown, Ruth Negga

Sometimes movies find themselves boxed in by particular constraints like the conventions of a genre or the source material, and Warcraft was always going to be one such movie. However much you know about the video game upon which the film is based, it appears to be about an epic war between humans and giant, tusk-toothed creatures called orcs in a proto-swords and sandals fantasy setting straight out of Lord of the Rings.

And therein lies the constraints. Nothing about the film is original and every creature, battle, character, subplot and setting feels like you've seen it in other (at times better) movies.

The good news is that Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) is too good a director to mess up the elements the source material has handed to him, and Warcraft is probably the best possible version of this movie that could exist.

The orc world is dying, apparently sickened by a magical power called The Fell. But magician orc Gul'Dan, who can wield it like a superpower, promises the assembled clans they can unite and colonise the lush world on the other side of a huge portal in the middle of their land.

Problem is, the land they've picked is already home to peaceful races (straight out of the Rings films) like dwarves and men, all of them led by a King (Dominic Cooper) and protected by a wise recluse (Ben Foster) with magical powers. The portal is also powered by the souls/essence/streams of CGI smoke that come from captured humans, and Gul'Dan needs more of them to keep the portal open.

When the orcs come through the portal and attack, one of their chieftains, Durotan (Toby Kebbel, once again on the motion capture stage after his work on the Apes films) starts to suspect The Fell is actually what's poisoning their land, and that Gul'Dan is just a power hungry madman.

Among the humans is warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel), charged with driving the orcs back, but Durotan organises a secret meeting to suggest an alliance against Gul'Dan. During the tense discussion Gul'Dan's spies – who've been lying in wait – strike, and the orc clans descend into infighting and chaos even as they try to drive the humans out of their self-appointed new home.

The story's a so-so rehash of everything you've seen in a hundred CGI-heavy fantasy movies over the last 15 years, and probably works fine in a game, but here it's really just a showcase for the special effects.

Occasionally the orcs are jaw-dropping achievements of software engineering and motion capture, only occasionally dipping into the uncanny valley. Hugely muscled beasts, there are some sequences where the sound effects and their interaction with the environments give them real weight and presence that make you forget they're just pixels.

That said, there are far too many scenes of more overt CGI with glowing pools of liquid, the shimmering portal and surges of light from spells and magic tricks. Still, Warcraft draws a defiant line in the sand. It's not brilliant, but it's the first big screen video adaptation that doesn't absolutely suck, and we've been waiting for that for a very long time.

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