Will Warcraft: The Beginning give fans what they want?

Duncan Jones's epic fantasy of Orcs and humans has potential to break the video-game film curse

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Warcraft: The Beginning, a new film based on the iconic video games, is set to open in UK cinemas. The games, requiring complex strategy skills, have legions of devoted fans – but will the movie satisfy them and does it offer anything to newcomers?

The epic fantasy film is written and directed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, the director of Moon and Source Code. It draws on the mega-popular Warcraft videogame series, as well as the novels.

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Vikings star Travis Fimmel plays Anduin Lothar, the leader of the humans, while Toby Kebell (The Fantastic Four's Doctor Doom) is Orcs leader Durotan. The film also stars Paula Patton as Garona Halforcen and Dominic Cooper as King Llane Wrynn.

Warcraft: The Beginning has been years in the making, with the project first announced by game-makers Blizzard in 2006, then put on hold for fear of competition with the Lord of the Rings franchise.

It might be the "best videogame movie ever made", William Bibbiani on Crave Online says, although he admits that's not saying much. Nevertheless, he describes it as an "ambitious, colourful foray into the mythology of Azeroth".

Director Jones defies the trend for ironic detachment, adds the critic, and his film has an "undeniable zeal" and refreshing sincerity for old-fashioned fantasy conceits. It's a noble effort that "won't make you forget about the Lord of the Rings", but will remind you of Willow.

Geoff Berkshire in Variety was less impressed: "Hollywood's habit of turning hit video games into unwatchable movies continues unabated," he says.

While the battle between the Orcs and humans takes up almost two hours of screen time, "the true conflict comes from film-makers trying to tell a story with soul" while "struggling against the inherent ridiculousness of the commodity they're working with", he adds.

Berkshire's main complaint is the lack of concern for those "perplexed at the mention of orcs and mages".

However, "devotees of the immersive role-playing source material may have an entirely different experience," he adds.

Actually, like many fantasy epics, "once you get past the costumes and lingo, the abracadabra and inevitable elves", Warcraft: The Beginning's pretty simple, says Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter. Beneath the richly textured layers of motion capture, animation and 3D modelling are the basics of conflict, survival, family, loyalty.

It places an "emphasis on craft over war", adds Linden, and the partly digital characters "have heart" and certainly represent "a breakthrough in both storytelling and artistry" for features based on video games.

The critic concludes that compared with "the soporific Hobbit trilogy", this film is "a fleet and nimble ride" and likely to conquer the box offices.

UK previews start on 29 May, with the official opening on 3 June.

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