Directed by Duncan Jones.
Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, and Glenn Close.
The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.
Never once while watching Warcraft (the silver screen adaptation from the video game and novel lore of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft franchise) did I feel that director Duncan Jones had made a terrible movie, but rather one that was not meant for those unfamiliar with the series, or concerned at all with how critics would receive it. This one is strictly for the die-hard fans, and it shows right from the very beginning.
With that being said, it is very difficult to get invested into Warcraft when you are constantly being bombarded with locales and various terminology getting name-dropped left and right. In other words, the common moviegoer heading into this high fantasy adventure will just be left nodding their head up and down at most of the dialogue exchanges, trying and hoping that they understand the gist of what is being discussed. On one hand, this is absolutely terrible storytelling, but after factoring in that Warcraft was not made with someone like myself in mind, I kept telling myself “Man, fans of World of Warcraft are going to be having nerdgasms every 30 seconds watching this”.
Duncan Jones (also the son of David Bowie for those that don’t know) is a gifted science-fiction storyteller; that’s just a fact with masterful films such as Source Code and Moon on his resume. Warcraft is not flawed in presentation, and as a matter of fact, I would go as far to say that Duncan Jones wholly understands the material he is adapting, and has a genuine love for both the production process of the movie and his finished product. In some regards, he has made the first truly good video game movie.
However, there are areas where Warcraft is not so good no matter your background, particularly the acting. Most of the dialogue comes across as wooden and flat, with no energy. Some actors fare better than others, but the worst of the performances definitely comes from Ben Schnetzer as a young mage alongside the humans. Simply put, he sounds bored out of his mind and as if even he doesn’t even know or comprehend the terminology he is spouting. In general, most of the human actors are fairly forgettable, however the voice-over performances from many of the orcs (Toby Kebbell, Daniel Wu, and Clancy Brown all put in some fantastic work) all carry the right tone and fierceness in their vocal cords to match their imposing physical dominance.
Additionally, the orcs are rendered with outstanding computer special-effects, boasting an insane amount of detail all over their towering bodies, over-sized war hammers, and various other facial features such as horns. Towards the end of the movie is a very brutal knock em’ down drag out fight between two of the more prominent orc characters; it last for quite a few minutes and is by far the crowning achievement of the experience, both for its violence and storytelling relevance. It also should be mentioned that although Paula Patton is not playing a CGI character, she does do a convincing job portraying a sort of orc slave with human proportions.
The problem for many moviegoers again comes back to the overall narrative, which even if you accept that the plot is geared more towards extreme fanatics of the lore, is still incredibly generic and full of clichés, with nothing really new on display for the fantasy genre. Much of the costume design of the humans is standard medieval stuff, while the orcs, look like orcs. Sure they are rendered outstandingly (and the special effects team does deserve to be commended for that), but at the end of the day they are something I have seen countless times across every other entertainment medium. The story itself is also spread far too thin, leaving little room for actual characterization, meaning that when important characters die it’s hard to really muster up a care in the world to give.
Every once in a while though there will be something visually pleasing, whether it be bright colors from the portal connecting two worlds, chrome white battle-armor for the king of Azeroth, a savage looking demonically possessed all-powerful grand mage, and much more. Essentially, Warcraft is a mixed bag as far as visual appeal goes, but with that said, expectations should be kept in check that this is not a game-changer of any kind. Putting it bluntly, it’s generic high fantasy passably re-created with state-of-the-art CGI, that more often than not makes Warcraft come across as watching a high-end produced cinematic from one of the actual games.
The best possible news about Warcraft is that after a little over one hour into the movie, much of the exposition and references to things only aficionados of the lore will be able to take with more than a grain of salt, the movie transforms into something of a nonstop action thrill-ride. The last act in particular features a massive battle that is large in scope and beautifully shot (even if much of the scenery and characters look ugly and colorless), with what essentially feels like two different boss battles going on simultaneously elsewhere. It’s a lot to take in, but by that point, everyone will understand the basics of the plot, able to really just sit back and bask in the chaos.
So much so, that by the end of Warcraft, I was finally won over in a way. The movie isn’t for everyone, but as I’ve been saying, anyone that has sank thousands of hours into the lore to the point where they have literally lost significant others to their addiction, they are going to have a blast with this movie. Duncan Jones is assured with the material and knows what he is doing to deliver crowd-pleasing results to the hard-core fans.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★