(On Cable TV, April 2017) The paradox of seeing big-budget big-screen adaptations of intensely fannish universes is that while there is a lot of material fit to be shown on-screen, there is also a ton of mythology to explain to non-fans. The better examples of the form manage to weave an accessible story atop a universe with substantial depth. The worst examples come across as a hodgepodge of inside jokes that require half a day of reading in order to grasp. Warcraft is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. The more than two decades of accumulated mythology can be felt in nearly every frame, but they often lead to choices that mystify non-fans. It doesn’t help that the main story is dull, and ends on an unsatisfying note that does nothing more than setting up the inevitable sequel. Otherwise, Warcraft does exhibit the usual characteristics of modern fantasy movies: Extensive in-your-face CGI, dynamic directing that can’t compensate for a thin story, an endless litany of invented names and minor characters, substantial self-importance, and an overall result that almost immediately fades in memory. I didn’t hate it, but neither did I like it—Director Duncan Jones doesn’t embarrass himself and must have learned a lot about effects-driven filmmaking, but he did better with his previous films. Otherwise, prospective viewers with no familiarity with the videogames should brace themselves for a torrent of new yet stale mythology—keeping track of the names, races, allegiances and largely undistinguishable characters can feel like a chore at times. Amazingly enough, this will count as an attraction for some people. I hope they enjoy the movie.
(In theaters, April 2011) I wasn’t as fond of Duncan Jones’ Moon as a lot of people were, but I was really interested in seeing his follow-up effort, and Source Code does not disappoint. The theme of the deceived protagonist is still there, the setting is just as constrained and the scientific premises is just as wobbly (not to mention a nonsensical title), but Jones here has a bigger budget, a bigger concept, bigger stars and a faster pace. Ben Ripley’s disaster-movie premise script is ingenious, but it’s paired with other well-paced revelations and the interweaving of both plotlines is effectively achieved. Jake Gyllenhaal is hitting his stride as a heroic protagonist, with good supporting work from Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and a halting Jeffrey Wright. Still, the real star here is writer/director Jones, who delivers a fast, clever and entertaining film with some depth and artful gloss. The ending manages to be elegiac and optimistic at once, and provides a surprising amount of thematic depth for what could have easily been a straight-up genre exercise. We don’t get quite enough SF movies like Source Code, but given the boost it will give to Jones’ career, chances are that we will get a few more.