Much war, little craft

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It is important to start this review of the movie Warcraft by stating: 1) I do not play video games; and 2) I like fully self-contained movies.

I went into seeing Warcraft with incredibly low expectations (perhaps unfair) and walked out having those expectations largely met and perhaps slightly exceeded.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Warcraft tells the story of Orcs determined to take over a new world because their own has died, possibly due to a malevolent force harnessed by their leader. The residents of the new world—populations of elves, mages, dwarves and humans—however, aren’t willing to lose their world…or at least the humans aren’t, and so fight back with the help of The Guardian, a wizard of immense power who lives in a tower and who is dealing with his own problems.

And while most of the movie is the playing out of this conflict, there is also an underlying mystery of what this malevolent force is, which leads to an Orc chieftain questioning the morality of the proposed genocides, and a couple of father-son/mentor-student relationships to suss out.

You may notice that in this description, I have offered no character names but rather simply archetypes. That’s because none of the characters is particularly memorable, nor is much of the movie. Perhaps if I had a greater familiarity with the game, much of this film would fall into place for me, but without that, the movie is mostly just a series of tropes with dialogue so wooden, the average porn filmmaker would be aghast.

Perhaps this is racist (specie-ist?), but I struggled to tell one Orc character from another, in part, because none of them had any personality much beyond “Hulk smash”. Thus, when an Orc would rampage into a scene, I had no emotional cues and so simply sat as a witness to events rather than being a participant. And even where I could recognize specific Orcs—the aforementioned chieftain and leader—the characters tended to be so two-dimensional (despite shelling out $20 for IMAX 3-D) that again, I was left cold.

Manly men

Three men and a movie reviewer (also a men)

The human characters weren’t a lot better. All the men look like my friend Danny, with whom I saw the movie, and women were almost non-existent. I do, however, have to give the filmmakers credit on two fronts here. First, although most of the humans were Caucasian, there were several of other ethnicities. And none of the female characters (I repeat NONE) were damsels by any measure. Each of the women, whether Orc, human or somewhere in between, were women of conviction and empowerment.

As to the plot, my biggest beef was that the writers seemed to simply drop in a device whenever they needed it to move the story forward, without any contextualization. I’d like to give you some concrete examples, but any of the major ones would, ironically, be spoilers. Suffice it to say, you are advised to check your credulity when you pick up your 3-D glasses.

Everything that occurs in this story was much better covered in Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Stargate…and The Ten Commandments.

But, in a strange way, that may end up being Warcraft’s saving grace as it frees the audience from having to participate in the story. Instead, you can just sit back and let the movie dance on your retinas, which is about as deep as it will go.

And this is possibly the one way in which Warcraft actually exceeded my expectations: it was visually captivating. The animation was incredibly good, with the Orc characters seemingly as real as the human actors. The fur of the giant wolves looked soft and the body movements of the griffins entirely plausible. Stylistically, I would put this movie in the realm of Avatar rather than Lord of the Rings.

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But back to the second point I raised at the start: self-contained movies.

Everything about Warcraft seemed to be designed to set up the myriad sequels that will be made, a trend in Hollywood blockbusters (and block-blowouts) that pisses me off. If nothing else, it shows complete disdain for the audience as it says “We really don’t care if you like the movie.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with sequels and spin-offs in general. But when I go to a movie, I want to see an entire story play out, rather than have to wait for the next installment or rely on having seen the previous installment to understand the story (looking at you, Avengers).

This is one of the reasons why I am possibly the only person on the planet (this one, at least) who found The Empire Strikes Back to be lacking. It was a placeholder or bridge to The Return of the Jedi, nothing more.

Will I be back for Warcraftier: Where’s Your Messiah Now?

Not unless someone else is paying me to watch it…and for some reason, my online mahjongg isn’t working…and it’s raining or something.

 

See also:

Movie review: Warcraft by Danny F. Santos

Call me disappointed – Review of In the Heart of the Sea

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Bluntly, In the Heart of the Sea was such a disappointing movie that I can’t even come up with a metaphor about a man driven mad by a desire for revenge against a ghostly leviathan. And that statement is made all the sadder by director Ron Howard’s attempt to do just that with almost every character in the movie.

For the under-informed, In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the writing of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is also the story of the story that led to the writing of the novel Moby Dick. In short, the film occurs in two timelines that unto themselves cannot disguise the fact that neither plot line is satisfying.

Adding to this sense of disappointment is the fact that my friends and I saw the movie in 3-D IMAX, neither of which was needed to tell this narrative, which is surprising given the majestic concept of a whale attacking ships in the open ocean.

Even the actors couldn’t manage enough dimensions to be considered flat, let alone 3-D. Somehow, stalwarts like Brendan Gleeson, Ben Winshaw and Thor…I mean Chris Hemsworth…failed to bring life to this bilge water. Hell, even the great white sperm whale was unable to add excitement to this movie.

Moby Thor

If you want the experience I think Ron Howard was targeting, watch Apollo 13 and every time Tom Hanks appears on screen, imagine him in a cape with a Viking helmet. You’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.

As one of my friends suggested, it was as though Howard was going through a checklist of clichés.

Man vs. inner demons  √

Man vs. the elements  √

Man vs. society/class system  √

Man vs. nature/whale  √

Man vs. himself/his past  √

Unfortunately, Howard missed the most important one:

Man vs. coherent story with a point to make  X

Having read the novel Moby Dick and watched two film versions—Gregory Peck is a God—this version actually did damage to the franchise. It somehow took an exciting tale and examination of the destructive demons that possess us all, and turned it into a melodramatic soulless mess.

The only real positive that I can offer this film was that for all the time spent watching nothing happen, I never reached the bum-squirming phase where I positively itched to flee the theatre.

This was a Hollywood gimme, and yet somewhow they managed to blow it.

 

Other reviews:

Danny F. Santos (coming)

Less than a whale of a tale (Toronto Star)

It’s Man vs Leviathan (New York Times)

Chris Hemsworth Anchors a Whale of a Tale (Forbes)

It (tediously) Follows – A review

It Follows

We all remember the dire warnings from health class or worried parents: If you have unprotected sex, you run the risk of coming down with an STD.

Well, for the kids in the movie It Follows, the itch of crabs or the need for antibiotics would be a welcomed distraction from the STW they risk by having sex with the wrong partner.

Choose your partners wisely

Choose your partners wisely

STW? Sexually transmitted wraith.

It Follows tells the story of Jay, a sexually active late-teen who finally succumbs to the charms of her newest beau Hugh, only to learn that not only did she accept his penis, but she also accepted a curse that involves a plodding ghost trying to kill her.

As long as Jay stays alive, the ghost leaves Hugh alone. The best advice, he suggests, is for Jay to pass the curse onto someone else as soon as possible, hooking up like he did with her. If the wraith gets Jay, it then comes after Hugh and then continues up the line of transmission.

Complicating life is the fact that only the cursed can see the wraith, which can transform from a urinating half-naked mutilated woman to a senior citizen to someone you know. Thus, even when Jay enlists her sister and friends to help her, they are largely useless other than as a source of comfort and uncontrolled screaming and running.

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Now, I don’t like horror movies. I am a jumpy person by nature, and so sudden surprises bother me. Thus, when my horror-loving friends suggested we see It Follows, I was reluctant. But I am trying to expand my genre repertoire and so joined in.

As it worked out, there was no reason to worry.

(HEREAFTER THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.)

Throughout the entire 100 minutes of the movie, I jumped only once, and as it turned out, at nothing that had anything to do with the story.

None of the appearances of the wraith (okay, maybe one) were particularly startling or unexpected. And aside from the musical cues to the audience to become anxious—music that would not have been out of place in any classic 80s horror—the movie offered little suspense. And after more than a few musical feints, even that ceased to make me uneasy.

Aggravating the lack of tension was an excruciatingly plodding pace to the story, which triggered more yawns in me than shudders. The only thing slower than the pace was the plodding approach of the wraith.

My friends—the horror aficionados—suggested that this gave the demon (and the movie) a relentless feel…the wraith was often shown slowly approaching from a distance in wide-angle shots. But to me, the movie was relentless in the way a train travelling at one mile per hour is unrelenting.

It will crush you…eventually…once it reaches you…assuming you don’t simply step off the tracks.

What I will admit was relentless was that truthfully the story could only end one way. (I am trying not to tell you how the movie ends.)

Because the wraith will always move up the chain of transmission, Jay is fated to die. Even if she passes the curse onto another. She will die. It is simply a matter of when.

Not taking the news well

Not taking the news well

The writer and/or director essentially painted themselves into a corner from the outset.

This is not to say that the kids only run away, but they also had no information to help stop the wraith…if possible. And no one seemed interested in determining what is was or why it was.

This is yet another reason why I could not engage in the movie. It gave me nothing to do but wait, and watch the kids attempt roughly the same actions time and again.

Maika Monroe

Maika Monroe as Jay

Given the nature of the beast—horror movies, that is—the performances were solid. The acting was quite good—Maika Monroe as Jay was quite effective—and the relationships between the characters felt real. Aside from a few subtextual set-ups that had no payoff, most of the character interactions satisfied.

Sadly, the actors were completely let down by the writer and/or director.

With the wraith largely incapable of harming her sister or friends (it only wants the cursed), all of Jay’s (our hero’s) actions were self-serving. Simply put, Jay did everything not to die.

And while this is understandable and even compelling early on—again, Maika Monroe is very likeable—it eventually lacks nobility. There were no other stakes, and how do you raise the stakes from gonna die? After a very short period, I was ready for Jay to die simply so my friends and I could get to the pub.

I appreciate that I am in the minority here (and at the pub).

It Follows will inexorably spawn a sequel—no doubt entitled It Still Follows—and possibly a third (Yep, Still Following) and fourth (Hunh, Where’d It Go? Oh, Jesus, There It Is) chapter.

For me, however, I’ll just go back and watch Poltergeist (the original, thank you) and have nightmares about clown dolls.

Now THAT is scary

Now THAT is scary

Now, if you want a good (and shorter) counterpoint to my antipathy for It Follows, check out a post written by another friend Danny F Santos, which can be found here.