Warcraft, Blizzard’s long awaited live-action film expected to have the highest chance of breaking the video game movie curse, is finally upon us. This past Tuesday, I was invited to an IMAX 3D prescreening of the film, which, I’ll admit upfront, if you’re already set on seeing the film it looks absolutely stunning in IMAX 3D and might be worth your consideration. Warcraft is, if nothing else, an absolute spectacle but it suffers from some deeply rooted issues.
This two-hour film, taking place in the expansive Warcraft universe, focuses on the origin story of the on-going struggle between the Alliance and the Horde. Its story shifts throughout to focus on Durotan, an orc who questions the Horde’s methods, Lothar, the right-hand man to the king of Stormwind, Khadgar, a young mage destined for greatness, and Garona, an orc-draenei slave looking for her place in the world.
After years of watching some of the most stunning cinematic game trailers, the thought of a live-action Warcraft movie with modern day CGI seemed like a match made in heaven. Visually, Warcraft is firing on all cylinders, creating some the most beautiful CG environments, characters, and effects in modern movies. Even the massive, brooding orcs look photo-realistic at times and the many action-sequences of movie are no different. The orc fight scenes are some the best examples of orcs I’ve seen in modern cinema to-date. They attack their enemies as pure monstrosities of rage and power. The unruly, heavy movements of the orcs combined with the well-choreographed fighting from both factions makes Warcraft a fun, heart-pounding action movie. However, as we’ve seen in both games and movies alike, visuals can only carry you so far.
Time and time again, we’ve seen video games try to make their transition to the big screen. So far, none of them have really hit their mark and Warcraft is no exception. Some video game adaptions cause industry-wide groaning as Hollywood forces massive changes to franchises we love in the pursuit of money or to add their own personal flair. Warcraft doesn’t suffer from this problem at all. The film is true to itself in its entirety, following the deep and rich lore without deviating from the source material. In theory, it’s exactly what we, the fans, want but its flaws are rooted even deeper into its production. The jagged, messy writing, poor script, and subpar acting are what took down gaming’s biggest chance of success on the big screen.
Warcraft tries to squeeze four full story arcs into a two-hour timespan, causing disjointed pacing and an overall messy presentation of the story. Each arc isn’t given enough room to breathe so the film jumps from character to character with little set-up. Garona’s arc feels forced and unnecessary, there only to check boxes off a list but, in reality, it’s also because the lore demands it. This is Warcraft’s biggest issue: being forced to juggle so many differently plot lines in attempt to accurately convey the events of the First War and opening of the Dark Portal.
The overabundance of story arcs is even more apparent when you evaluate the quality and level of intrigue in each. Durotan and his internal struggle with the orc’s methods and leadership was far more interesting than any other part of the story. It showed that the orcs are deeply rooted in tradition, allowing it to affect their overall decisions, and what happens when orcs oppose the standard. It was rich in culture and touched upon politics where the humans did not. The “human” plot points felt only as a necessity to facilitate the overarching plot instead on contributing meaningful viewpoints to their world being invaded. I would have much rather preferred an entire film dedicated to the orc’s viewpoint of this origin story as it was more than just a hostile attack, it was survival. Ultimately, this would prove difficult to accomplish without changing parts of the story as the overarching plot of the Warcraft universe is deeply tied to both Lothar and Khadgar.
In all the film, I’d say Khadgar was it’s biggest fault due to his poor script but also less than stellar performance. His acting felt out of place as if he was in a modern era and he continued to deliver cheesy, unoriginal lines. His introduction to the film was forced and his backstory was nearly unexplained, with multiple heavy handed hints that he is for some reason destined for greatness without ever saying why. His interactions with Medivh, the current Guardian of Tirisfal, always left a bad taste in my mouth as he insistenced on referring to him as “Guardian”, one of the most generic names in the book. Overall, the acting of the other characters was fine, with some moments of awkwardness with Medivh and Garona. The script, however, suffered from constant cheesy and generic lines that reflect poorly on the characters. That all being said, Khadgar was the only true standout as a character that broke the immersion of the film.
Warcraft is a visually-stunning, fun action movie that suffers from poor, jumbled pacing, excessive plot points, and a mediocre script. Its dedication and accuracy to its lore, however, makes it a movie that can still be enjoyed by its hardcore fans. The film doesn’t cater well to individuals outside of the Warcraft community, making it one big piece of fan service. I, personally, had an excellent time with the movie, extremely glad I had the opportunity to see it in IMAX 3D. Even now I’m left thinking about it in both good and bad ways. It left an impression on me despite its flaws and I would love to see Blizzard learn from the mistakes of the first film and go on to make an even greater second. It’s unlikely the film will gross enough profit to warrant a sequel but I am hopeful. At the end of the day, Warcraft is a video game junk food movie that is fun in its own right. I am a fan of Warcraft and movies in general but am no critic so take my words however you like. However, due to its undeniable flaws, if I were to give a loose rating, I would award Warcraft a 6 out of 10.
Image Source: Official Art of "Warcraft"