Warcraft and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Duncan Jones
On the one hand, we are now in an age where four different video game movies are getting wide releases at the theater! On the other hand, two of them have been far from impressive so far and Assassin’s Creed looks as dull as dishwater. I guess all we have left to give us hope is this film based on one of gaming’s most influential franchises… that I know nothing about. Does this manage to bring in new fans while satisfying Blizzard die hards, or is this gonna be yet another example of why we just shouldn’t expect much from video game movies? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about… too many things, but in the broadest terms it’s about the war between the Orcs and the Humans of Stormwind. See the Orcs kinda fucked up their own planet (or it’s dying of natural causes) and so they need to go through a dimensional portal to find a new place and take it over. Our key Orc players in this are Durotan (Toby Kebbell) who’s the chieftain of one of the Orc tribes that’s the first to notice that things seem to be amiss with the leadership, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) who is said leadership and uses dark magic all over the place, and Garona (Paula Patton) who’s a half breed and gets captured by the humans early on. Now the Humans are led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), his right hand man Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), a young sorcerer who first notices the dark magic being used by this new threat named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and some super mage given the title of The Guardian who I guess just sits in a tower waiting to be called upon named Medivh (Ben Foster). As stated earlier, Garona is captured by the Humans early on during an unsuccessful raid by the Orcs, but it is during this fight that Durotan realizes just how bad the magic shit that Gul’dan has been throwing around is and decides to overthrow him to save the Orcs from the dark magic. While he’s doing that, the Humans begin mounting a counter effort with the help of Garona, but Medivh may not be quite up to the task of taking on this new dark magic which does not bode well for the Kingdom of Stormwind. Can the Humans fight back from this invading force? Can Durotan stop the OBVIOUSLY EVIL dark mage from… corrupting the souls of the Orcs I guess? Does anyone else think this should have been a TV show instead?
I’m trying to think of another movie that so perfectly encapsulates the problems with making a film adaptation of a video game, and I’m coming up empty. Is this the worst video game movie of all time? Not even close. You’ve got films like those of the Uwe Bowl filmography that are absolute garbage because no one making it gave a shit. They had no budget, no talent, and no confidence from the studio behind them, so of COURSE they turned out bad. You’ve also got films like Angry Birds, or even Prince of Persia which may have had the resources, but had zero ambition. They knew not to swing for the fences and to stay as safe and uninspired as possible which may have led to watchable movies, but nothing that anyone will bother remembering after seeing them. Warcraft is the absolute worst video game movie that not only had these kinds of resources at its disposal, but had actual passion and drive behind it to be an actual adaptation instead of a thinly veiled knock off of something else (though I’d hardly fault you for making Lord of the Rings comparisons). It squanders almost EVERYTHING it has going for it because of the simple fact that despite how badly they wanted to, they just didn’t know how to translate Warcraft from a video game into a movie.
Before we get into what this movie gets so terribly wrong, let’s at least try to go over what it did right. I don’t know the first thing about this franchise, but I have an idea of what it looks like and this movie nails it. The designs of all the characters, their armor, and the vibrant color pallet all give off the sense of this being a fantasy world full of magic and wonder. I don’t think it’s the right kind of look for the story they wish to tell as its a rather grim one, but it’s a style that is very distinctive from something like Lord or the Rings or the Snow White movies. The Orcs as well are very impressively realized in here as full CG characters who manage to fit into their environment well and have a very strong sense of life to them. Since they are CG characters, there is a bit of uncanniness there, especially when they’re interacting with real people (the first time we see Garona with them is incredibly jarring) but the film manages to do a lot with them and they’re honestly better acted and more well developed than any of the humans. Along those lines, the fights in this movie are just fine. They can wear a bit thin as they go on and on and on, but they’re competently shot (which FOR SOME REASON is getting rarer and rarer to find in movies) and they’re also unexpectedly brutal. Lots of skin melting, head smooshing, spurts of blood, all sorts of gory goodness that REALLY pushes that PG-13 rating as far as it will go, so at least they didn’t shy away from the violence here.
And that’s about it, so let’s start complaining! The story they’re trying to tell here makes no sense and doesn’t work in any sort of dramatic three act structure. Orcs want to come through a portal to the world of Azeroth with the help of their leader who is ALSO a Necromancer. Everyone SEEMS to be aware the dude is fucking evil as he captures hundreds of innocent creatures to sap their souls out so the portal can be powered, but then it takes Durotan like two weeks AFTER invading the human world to realize that their leader MIGHT not be on the up and up. Hell, ALL the Orcs are a bunch of walking contradictions and their whole society is filled with plot convenient motivations. They need to escape their home world because it’s dying. Fair enough. They wage war against the humans to take their land. Makes sense and firmly establishes them as the bad guys. The movie though never really commits to the Orcs either being misunderstood as well as brainwashed by the Necromancer, or if they really are as evil as their actions show them to be. You could argue that’s the point and that we’re seeing things in shades of gray, but the switches of allegiances and overall behavior of the Orcs becomes unintelligible as they are changed and morphed to fit whatever dumbass plot the filmmakers wanted to squeeze in here. There are at least two times in this movie where all the Orcs realize that the Necromancer is not an honorable leader worthy of the throne, but then they go right back to following his insane orders as if the entire populace as the memory of a goldfish.
The Orcs aren’t the only thing that doesn’t make sense here. Who the fuck is The Guardian and what makes him so special? Seriously, the guy is the least convincing wizard I’ve EVER seen in a movie and he’s probably the least powerful one too. The guy can go maybe an afternoon before having to go back to his giant pool of energy in a far off tower, and yet he’s supposed to be their Avatar essentially; someone who can bring balance to the world at times of strife, and he doesn’t give off a single HINT of that kind gravitas or import.
Our other two main characters, Hero Man and Washout (Anduin Lothar and Khadgar), aren’t any better as they’re just there to fit the archetype shaped hole the script put in there for them, but at least they don’t come off as wildly miscast as The Guardian. Outside of the orcs, there are two standouts here who were surprising good in the movie, but the script ends up destroying a lot of the goodwill they earned; the half orc Garona (I don’t know what the other half is) and King Llane ofStormwind. This may be the best king I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I’m not talking about bullshit kings like Aragon who doesn’t have a country to run until AFTER everything got fixed. Llane and his Queen Lady Taria are really great at their jobs here with Llane giving cautious consideration and the benefit of the doubt to some of the Orcs possibly coming around to their side, and Lady Taria helping Garona get acclimated to the possibility of having a life in this kingdom where she PROBABLY won’t be treated as bad as the Orcs were. She’ll probably get a few mean words thrown her way, but the Orcs had her chained up for seemingly no reason. Wait, now that I think about it, why the fuck did they even BRING her to the battlefield if all she was just being dragged around like a prisoner!? See!? The goodwill is already being sapped away! Paula Patton does well in the role and has some really great action moments, though I’m not a fan of the fact that at least two of the male characters (POSSIBLY as many as four) were being set up as possible romantic interests for seemingly no real reason. It’s not like she interacts with THAT many people in this movie, so having most of them walk around with boners for her is kind of an antiquated trope to see in a 2016 movie. Not only that, but if the movie REALLY need a romantic subplot to fill out the movie trope quota, the relationship between the good Orc Durotan and his wife Draka had PLENTLY of emotional resonance and frankly is the real heart of the movie.
As far as how the movie screws up Llane’s character… well that’s all in the ending which, suffice to say, is absolute BULLSHIT and the perfect encapsulation of the failure of this movie to be a MOVIE. This ends like a video game would end if it was baiting for the next installment. No, actually this ends the way the intro cinematic to a video game would end. There’s no resolution for any of the conflicts which I can only assume means they are REALLY fucking sure they’re gonna get a sequel to this. The thing is though; they covered ALL the relevant character arcs here! Where is the story going to GO now? This is like how Superman was killed in the second movie of his franchise which means all the future sequels aren’t going to have a real sense of danger or sacrifice from the guy because he’s already cheated death! The way this movie ends, there’s nothing more of relevance to cover from the characters they’ve established here, so all the next movie COULD be about is a never ending action scene which is PERFECT to introduce a video game series, but NOT as the teaser for your next film! On top of all that, the pacing in this movie is absolutely abysmal and it looks like it had to have been cut down from a much longer cut. They took a very novel approach here though as they didn’t cut out scenes from the movie. Instead, they just cut off the endings to pretty much every scene here as most of them just cut off mid conversation or mid story point to fade out into another part of the world! It gets SO awful at points that I had no idea if a main character was dead or not for at least ten minutes, and not in a way that we were supposed to be misled! Instead, they cut the scene early before any sense of closure (whether through knowing what happened or through a set up for dramatic ambiguity) could be achieved. I’m sure there’s gonna be a bullshit directors cut of this that all the fans are gonna say is the ONLY one we should be judging (*cough* Batman v Superman *cough*), but frankly I don’t give a shit. After having to sit through THIS mess, I doubt that any amount of added scenes will make this a tolerable watching experience.
Video game movies have gotten to the point where we’ve got quite a few “good enough” movies that manage to be watchable as a substitute for better films. Whether it’s animated kids films like Angry Birds, zombie flicks like Resident Evil, or even Pirates of the Caribbean knock offs like Prince of Persia, games have managed to AT LEAST be considering viable by major studios rather than handing them off to shlock masters like Uwe Boll. With the release of this movie and Assassin’s Creed at the end of the year, it’s getting to the point where Studios are trying to prop them up as tentpole releases that can bring in big numbers (especially overseas). If this movie is the best we can do though, then it’s not time for video games to get to that level. I don’t know whether the fault lies with the director, Blizzard, or anyone else, but this movie is an unmitigated disaster that’s doubly so because it’s startlingly clear exactly WHY it’s so bad which points right back to the source material. Games as adaptations will not work without some serious restricting of the material to make it work as a feature film rather than as a collection of cut scenes to get players from one event to another, and yet this movie stubbornly refuses to be anything more than that. Do not see this movie in theaters. I wouldn’t even advise seeing it once it hits home release. Maybe if you’re interested in seeing just how bad a video game movie can get when done with the best of intentions, but even so it’s not gonna be an easy sit. So much potential and so many resources; all of it completely wasted to make something that gamers have already gotten a better version of for the last twenty years. Oh well. Maybe next time…
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