Warcraft is not a disastrously bad movie. Would that it were. Then there might be some chance that enough people would gravitate towards it over the years as a camp spectacle to redeem it as gloriously awful, the fate that has rescued so many other movies based on video games, from Street Fighter to the oeuvre of Uwe Boll. Instead, it's just a big, doughy lump of stuff, not terribly good or bad or anything, just hanging out there being intolerably mediocre. This is quite possibly the most polished, handsome video game movie ever made; and that is in no small part why it is certainly the most boring.

Based on the tie-in novels based on the Warcraft and World of Warcraft games, Warcraft goes back in time to explain the story of how the Orcs first came to Azeroth and began their endless war with the Humans. It is not chief among the movie's flaws that it dumps names and concepts out with no more of a hint of explanation than I've just given you - it helps that it's a grab bag of fantasy clichΓ©s, and even if you can't follow any of it, you can still follow pretty much all of it - it's symptomatic of how disinterested Warcraft is in... anything, basically. A more "one for the fans" proposition I've not seen in ages, and speaking as a non-fan, a large portion of the movie felt more like a slurry made up of 60% J.R.R. Tolkien, 10% Roger Zelazny, and 30% crappy Game of Thrones fanfic than a dramatic construct with characters, conflict, and a clear ink between the two. Not inscrutable, just hectic and uninteresting.

But here, anyway, is the meat of it: the Orcs come from a different world, which used to be hale and fecund before the Orc wizard Gul'dan (Daniel Wu - the Orcs are all mo-cap performances) began over-using the Fell, a sort of magical energy field that can be tapped for great power but at the cost of total corruption. Gul'dan has devised a portal generator to other worlds that runs off of the life force of living creatures, and he's using it to send an advance army of great Orc warriors to bring back enough prisoners to fuel the portal long enough for all of the Orcs to travel across. Azeroth is already buckling under the weight of conflicts between humans and the other races in that world, and Llan Wynn (Dominic Cooper), the powerful humand king of Stormwind, finds himself finds himself barely able to fight against the invaders.

That's the best I can do for a plot synopsis. Warcraft is a busy little thing, telling individual stories on multiple fronts, involving the inner workings of both Human and Orc politics. The viewer is obliged to keep track of no fewer than eleven main characters on top of the less-main characters, all of whom are virtually impossible to remember from scene to scene, both because they have made-up bullshit names, and because they are all horribly written and played. I will say that, in general, the Orc sequences are better, more interesting, and more consequential, in great part because the solitary engaging character is an Orc. This is Durotan, the first Orc to see through Gul'dan's treacherous, maniacal plot, the father of a newborn Orc-child played by the worst CGI that I would ever expect to see in a big-budget movie in the year of our Lord 2016, and the focal point of all the most complex, nuanced treatments of duty and morality, family and tribe, peace and violence, that Warcraft has to offer. He's played by Toby Kebbell, who I believe is the only person here with real motion capture experience - he played the villainous chimp Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - and it shows through massively; he's uniquely able to play things small and earnest, and Durotan is the only feeling character in the whole damn movie. When he gets sidelined with three-quarters of the movie left to go, it's a blow from which Warcraft never remotely recovers.

Mind you, Warcraft isn't some dipshit affair with a bunch of yahoos: there's some real talent wasting itself onscreen. Nobody is more shockingly bad than the heretofore reliable Ben Foster as the human wizard Medivh (evil, because the film is needless anal about making sure to exactly balance its Human and Orc halves), chomping on lines like the worst kind of stagefright-stricken community theater actor, and buried alive in a big sleeve-dominated costume, and a hair and make-up job that makes him look like Jesus Christ cosplaying Gandalf. But Clancy Brown and an uncredited Glenn Close are also among the high-end performers flailing like idiots. Stepping down a rung, we've got Cooper lacking the regal presence to carry off the loopy Olden Days dialogue he's been saddled with, and Paula Patton going stiff as a board in her joyless performance of a half-Human, half-Orc given a coat of digital ink and paint to give her skin the color of a martini olive. Travis Fimmel, who's first credited so we might as well call him the "lead", appears constantly baffled by the actions he's performing, and well he might be.

What's really irritating is that somewhere, the guts of the thing are strong. The film's world is amazing: production designer Gavin Bocquet has whipped up a marvelous, intricate, and apparently limitless set of cultures with their own visual logic, everything's highly detailed, and the visual effects are superb - outside of the baby, the risibly terrible CGI from the trailers isn't to be found anywhere. It is a beautiful world, executed flawlessly, shot in rich, saturated colors and realistically dramatic lighting by cinematographer Simon Duggan. The world of Warcraft deserves something so much better than it gets - as soon as people are dropped into the landscapes, everything goes right to hell, and the magic dissipates. Director Duncan Jones, who has made astounding genre masterpieces before, and I desperately hope will be allowed to do so again (he works well on a low budget), puts some attempt at grandeur in the scale of shots, and staging the plot matters against striking, beautiful natural (and, no doubt, computer-augmented) landscapes. It is a film that looks like the thing that fantasy books evoke so splendidly, and fantasy movies tend to mess up; that's something the film has going for it.

Not that anything is done with that world. Jones is great at establishing shots and pedestrian at working within scenes. The action is generally bland and forgettable: the initial full-scale skirmish between humans and orcs apparently takes place in a neon blue fog machine, for example. And it will no doubt come as a shock to learn that one of the film's three climaxes is a magic duel/prog rock laser show. The effects are good, at least; it is maybe the most beautiful magic light show ending to a fantasy movie yet. But still, the fact that 13 years after The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, prominent big-budget fantasy movies haven't figured out any new setpieces is dispiriting, and Warcraft's aren't even especially capable versions of those setpieces. The whole thing simply couldn't be any more lifeless, generic, and beige.