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Movie Review

As a movie, ‘Warcraft’ is a brutal video game

Director Duncan Jones made quite an impression with his first two features, “Moon” (2009) and “Source Code” (2011). They were intelligent, immersive science fiction that made us think and feel, and that delivered an amazing bang for their production buck. (Lunar miniatures!) You could see their imprint all over bigger-budget variations like Tom Cruise’s “Oblivion” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” If it wasn’t quite enough to keep reviewers from mentioning first thing that Jones is David Bowie’s son, it should have been.

Which brings us, after a five-year wait, to “Warcraft,” Jones’s adaptation of the long-running video game and standard-setter for the online role-playing crowd. The hope would be that it just opens up the director’s vision — and the fantasy genre — to supply him with the sort of megabudget tools and toys that he had so far managed to do without. The fear is that Jones’s storytelling smarts and aesthetic resourcefulness could wind up sacrificed to the chaos and overblown approach of a generic would-be blockbuster. Unfortunately, fear wins out.

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The movie sets up the franchise’s central clash between medieval-ish human society and steroidal orcs, eye-catchingly rendered like the Hulk with a tusky underbite and creative battle piercings. (Diehards, please resist the urge to bludgeon this non-gamer with an orc mallet if I don’t do justice to all the gnarly details.) With their own world dying, the orcs open a mystical portal to man’s beatific realm. The human defense is led by inconsistently sardonic knight Lothar (Travis Fimmel, TV’s “Vikings”), with insider support from captured slave Garona (Paula Patton, more ridiculous than resplendent in green orc makeup). The spotlighted orc, meanwhile, is conflicted tribal chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell, doing motion capture on the heels of “Fantastic Four,” poor guy).

Ultimately, the fighting is less about might than magic. The orcs follow grizzled, vicious Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), who drains prisoners’ souls to power the portal, while Lothar’s people turn to guardian warlock Medivh (Ben Foster, cast with a pinch of TV-movie Merlin, a dash of longhair Howard Hughes, and several heaping scoops of “What were they thinking?”).

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There’s an intriguing development in Durotan’s heretical conclusion that only a human alliance can prevent Gul’dan’s dark spells from snuffing out another world. But aside from this, it’s all awfully sub-Tolkien. There’s nary an honorable death that resonates, although we do get some creative visual perspectives on enthusiastically digitized brutality. But wasn’t the game good for that already?

★ ½
WARCRAFT

Directed by Duncan Jones. Written by Charles Leavitt and Jones. Starring Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, Ben Foster. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs; Jordan’s Furniture IMAX in Reading and Natick. 123 minutes. PG-13 (extended sequences of intense fantasy violence).


Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.