Seeing all the promotional material and trailers for Warcraft made me hopeful for it’s success. With Duncan Jones, director of the excellent Moon and Source Code, behind the camera and Blizzard putting their money behind it and overseeing the project, surely we would end up with at least a decent movie, right? Maybe this will be the movie that finally breaks the “all video game movies are bad” rule. Well, I am not too proud of a man to admit when I’m wrong, but I didn’t think I’d be this wrong. I really don’t want to say it, but Warcraft is a near disaster of a film.
I really hate to say the movie fails because it’s sort of admirable in how it fails. The problem with a lot of video game movies is they’re often made to market those games and nothing else. The people behind other projects generally don’t care about the source material. They just lazily film a fill-in-the-blanks action flick, call it day and take the money and run; which is almost the exact opposite of what happened with Warcraft. Sure, Blizzard saw the marketing opportunity, or that’s what the free month of World of Warcraft that I got when I bought my ticket told me, but Jones seems to earnestly care about the source material. There are details upon details to ensure the film accurately reflects the Warcraft aesthetic. The movie is littered with subtle nods to the games that are actually quite enjoyable for fans, and visually, the movie is actually quite astounding. I was particularly impressed with everything involving the orcs. There is so much that could go wrong when using completely CGI characters, but even when paired up with real flesh and blood actors, the orcs still look and feel very real.
The movie is clearly very passionately made, but that’s precisely what makes the whole thing fall apart. It feels like an over-caffeinated, overly hyped twelve-year-old telling you the plot to their favorite video game all in one breath. The movie spends so much time building it’s world and trying to communicate this epic fantasy story, it sort of forgets to be a epic fantasy story. If you’re unfamiliar with any Warcraft lore, you will quickly be lost. The movie sort of jumps into the mess of things, barely explaining any of the concepts that it brings up or introducing it’s world. Many of it’s scenes are set in places fans of the series will certainly recognize, but doesn’t take the time to give any context to those unfamiliar. Seeing a elaborate and wonderfully recreation of Stormwind is great for someone who already knows about Stormwind but for everyone else, it’s just another city.
The movie heavily relies on stock characters and types to the point where it feels like someone’s bad Dungeons and Dragons campaign. A mage by the name of Khadgar, played by Ben Schnetzer, just sort of shows up and sticks around. We hardly know anything about him the entire time. The same can said about most of the human characters; they’re all just stereotypical fantasy archetypes with hardly anything interesting about them. Even the half-orc Gerona, played by Paula Patton, who should have been more interesting, just comes across as being salty about her lot in life and then getting over it with an awful and forced romantic pairing. The only person we really get to know is Toby Kebbell’s character, the rebel orc leader, Durotan. There’s a moment right at the start where Durotan and his wife are just talking about their son and their future. It’s a very short scene, but we immediately sympathize with the guy, and care about his struggles later in the film. When he does end up having his big epic moment near the end, it actually feels epic because it isn’t just some orc. Hardly any other character gets the same treatment. Towards the end, when things get Game of Thrones-y with betrayals and death flying about, it’s hard to stay invested because we don’t know or care about the any of the people involved.
I’ve heard comparisons to Battlefield Earth, which honestly aren’t too far off, but the one series of movies Warcraft reminded me of were the Star Wars prequels. Much like those movies, Warcraft just sort of plops its world in front of us and expects us to immediately fall in love. It wants to be epic fantasy but does not try hard enough to actually be one and ends up being the backstory to a much better movie. It’s the kind of backstory Fellowship of the Ring wisely spent maybe ten minutes on before getting to the good stuff. Again, I hate to be so critical over a movie that’s so clearly passionately made, but it just fails to deliver the awesome story it’s desperately trying to tell. Fans of the Warcraft series might find some fun in it, but if you’re not a fan, I’d skip this one.
Written by Remy Williams June 13th, 2016