It’s a great weekend for new movies. That doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed 100% quality, rather, it’s just exciting when a new video game adaptation is released and attempts to turn the genre around. Combine that with the follow-up to one of the best horror films in years, and there should be at least one reason to visit the theater this weekend.
Before I begin this review, I feel the need to state how much I love the work of director Duncan Jones. In Moon, he surprised me with an unforgettably personable sci-fi story in a very small movie. His second movie, Source Code, felt larger in scale, but still focused on two characters in a complex and limitless crisis. I was immediately worried for Jones when he took on the adaptation of the Warcraft PC game series. Those games were never known for their stories (please don’t send me hate mail), and those who aren’t familiar with the human vs orc battles might not care much about this fantasy world.
In Warcraft, we begin seeing things from the perspective of Durotan (Toby Kebbell). He, along with the immense army of orcs must leave their dying planet and enter a magic portal to Azeroth. Yet, even as the orcs pillage the newfound planet, the human kingdom, led by Anduin (Travis Fimmel) fights back against a force that will eventually bring death to their planet in short time.
I’m going to leave the story synopsis there, as that’s the basic groundwork. However, there is so much going on in every side of the battle. And by so much, I mean too much. The majority of the movie follows Anduin as he travels from the kingdom to the guardian’s tower, back to the kingdom, to the enemies’ stronghold, back to the kingdom. He is joined by the apprentice magician, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who seems to have more potential than anyone gives him credit for. That also goes for the audience too. His portrayal of a wizard is the least lifelike thing in a movie that is 85% CG. Fimmel fares better in his role. His “wink at the camera” behavior brings an element of charisma into a world that knows no joy.
The real problem with Warcraft is how it begins. There is minor exposition at the beginning, but not nearly enough. You are thrown right into the second act of a movie with no reason why you should care about either side, all while each character spouts incomprehensible names and places from the game series, ad nauseam.
I have to wonder if they should have given a free download of the original Warcraft simulation games in preparation to see the movie. Honestly, I’m a bit jealous of hardcore fans. I’m jealous of Leroy Jenkins. (Never thought I’d say that.) These fans will devour the references and easter eggs that make up the first half of the movie. However, every movie should stand on its own without having the excuse of “You’d like it more if you played the games/read the book/etc.”
The flaws are sadly unfortunate because when this movie succeeds, it is magical. There are moments of greatness in the final hour. These iconic scenes and character shifts deserve to be in a much tighter movie. Yet, there is too much time wasted in bad acting, betrayal and politics. This general audience introduction to Warcraft should have played it far more simple. Rather than see both sides of the battle, I’d rather just watch Durotan the orc deal with his plight, which was the most interesting aspect of the movie.
The CG orcs are surprisingly solid. The voice acting and motion capture worked great. The large budget is put on the screen, thankfully. It visually saves the movie from veering into SyFy territory at times. Where Warcraft really succeeds is the action scenes. In that way, it’s incredibly similar to Pacific Rim. It’s a spectacle to watch these fantastical beings in battle, but there’s not much beyond that.
Warcraft is a movie for fans of the game series. General audiences may not be able to embrace this movie based on how exclusive its references are. It’s not difficult to watch in the least, but you’ll just feel lost as far as the plot or character motivation goes for the majority of the time. It does end on a high note, leaving me wanting a sequel that is hopefully stronger. C
The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring (2013) marked the pinnacle of James Wan’s career in horror. He had already changed the genre with Saw and Insidious, but he perfected haunted house movies with the Conjuring. What set it apart was the inclusion of two believable ghost investigators in the Warrens.
Now, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back and are called to find out what is behind a possible poltergeist in Enfield, a small town in England.
The family being haunted consists of a single mother, who is barely able to keep life together even without any malicious ghosts, and her four kids. The poltergeist in question has its eye on the youngest daughter, Janet.
What I loved about this particular haunting is that it teases a slow build up (ala Paranormal Activity), but soon gets right to the point. This ghost doesn’t care who sees what it’s up to. Everyone from the police to the media is clued into what’s going on in this dingy house.
Once again, what makes the difference between a typical horror flick and James Wan’s imaginings, is the direction and two central characters. I’ll come right out and say it, but Wan is the most gifted horror auteur this side of Hitchcock and Carpenter. His camerawork leaves you unsettled, while also making you terrified to look outside of the focal point, for fear of seeing the unknown. My fingers are crossed that he brings his unique style to DC’s Aquaman in a few years.
The highlights of the cast are once again Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s roles as the Warrens. Farmiga, especially, brings weight to the role that feels completely genuine. Her character almost doesn’t belong in a typical horror flick. She seems like someone brought from another genre film, but provides class to this story of what goes bump in the night. Once again, I’d like to see the highly fictionalized accounts of the Warrens continue in further movies.
The Conjuring 2 walks a fine line of unearned jump scares and terrifying imagery. Thankfully, it doesn’t cross the line. The little use of CG doesn’t quite fit with the movie, but still inspires its fair share of terror. Being a sequel, it attempts to one-up the fear factor. Yet, with this series, simplicity is key. Had it just relied on unsettling imagery, it would be stronger.
Much like the first Conjuring, it might not quite deserve the R rating. It shows heavily implied violence and a child is in peril throughout the movie. However, anyone who dislikes movies with possessions, should probably avoid it.
The Conjuring 2 is a worthy follow-up to The Conjuring. That movie had the benefit of coming out of nowhere to surprise everyone. Yet, this sequel follows a different formula and stays fresh because of it. This is worth seeing in the theater in a crowd of terrified people. B+