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Warcraft’ puts a lot of effort into being terrible

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One of Warcraft’s many weird creatures prepares for battle.

One and a half stars

Warcraft Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster. Directed by Duncan Jones. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

At first glance, Warcraft looks like a cynical cash grab—Hollywood’s latest adaptation of some well-known property with a built-in audience. In this case, the established brand is the Warcraft franchise, which consists of five role-playing video games involving battles between orcs and humans, set in a mythical kingdom called Azeroth. The movie is terrible, but watching it is a different sort of painful experience from watching a blatant hack job like Mortal Kombat or Silent Hill. Warcraft’s gifted director and co-writer, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), has invested so much earnest effort into this project that the only possible response to all of the patent silliness onscreen is sheer pity. He tried so hard.

Simply explaining what the movie is about, for the benefit of those not already well versed in Warcraft mythology, is a challenge. Basically (and hugely simplified), the orcs’ home planet is dying, and these monstrous beasts seek to invade Azeroth via a portal that can only be opened with arcane magic and sacrificed lives. Durotan (Toby Kebbell, in motion capture) leads one orc army, while Lothar (Travis Fimmel) rallies humanity’s defense. Caught in the middle, with divided loyalties, is the half-orc, half-human Garona (Paula Patton).

Working with far and away the largest budget of his career to date, Jones delivers the expected computer-generated set pieces, which at least show off some nifty design work. But he’s also quixotically intent on treating these characters as seriously as if they’d been written by J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, ignoring their origin as bland video-game avatars that might as well have been created by Joe R.R. Schmoe. Warcraft is at once ponderous and extravagantly goofy—a truly deadly combination previously seen in the legendary disaster that was Battlefield Earth. Hopefully, Jones, who’s already having a bad year (his father was David Bowie), can shrug off this well-intentioned failure and bounce back.

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