I know Warcraft. I’ve put far more time into the games than I’m willing to admit (let’s just say the amount of solid 24-hour days played is in three digits) and I know the lore quite well. This is a good thing, because I believe that if I weren’t initiated, I’d have no idea what was going on.
The story roughly follows the events of the first game. Using a sinister energy known as the “Fel”, a race of sentient beings called orcs flee their dying planet and arrive on another called Azeroth, which is inhabited by humans. Here, they wish to sacrifice these humans in order to build a portal back to their world and invite the rest of their people. The film’s two main protagonists are Lothar (Travis Fimmel, who did a great job), the human military commander who wants to protect the kingdom he calls home, and Durotan (Toby Kebbell, who did a better one), an orc who has rejected the Fel’s power and sees it as an evil not worth its price. They consider uniting to defeat the leader of the orcs, Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu, who I’m hoping was asked to ham it up as much as he did), a powerful warlock and master of the Fel energy.
Supporting these characters, we have Garona (Paula Patton exercising her melodramatic powers) a half-orc, half-something (Human? Draenei? It’s never stated, and it’s been both in the games) who is slave and something of an adoptive daughter to Gul’Dan, Medivh (Ben Foster manages to get the “strange” part right), a supposedly powerful wizard (he doesn’t do a whole lot for the majority of the film) who is designated Guardian of Azeroth, and Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer does well in a role anybody could’ve played). Then, supporting those characters, we have a king, a war-chief, a best friend, a queen, a son and an adviser.
Now, Duncan Jones is a great director. I loved Moon, and a big part of that is due to his ability to really flesh out his characters. Warcraft simply has too many for its 122-minute run time. It is an exemplar of a film that needed to be longer. It delves into each character for an awkward amount of time; it’s too little to actually care about them, but so much that it eats up that precious runtime. Warcraft has an incredibly dense and extensive lore, and it just doesn’t work for such a short movie. Awkwardly, the most complex character in the film is Clancy Brown‘s Blackhand, who has much less screentime than most of the other characters and who feels like more of a plot device than a sentient being. To compound on this failing, two brand-new characters appear in the film that weren’t even in the games. Lothar is given a sister in the form of Ruth Negga (also the queen) and a son in the form of Burkely Duffield. It is astounding to me that, faced with a staggering number of characters and relationships to squeeze into two hours, the decision was made to think up even more and cram those in, too. It’s a claustrophobic rush of character-development and the result is a complete and utter lack of breathing room.
The action sequences are, for the most-part (a climax between two magi was unusually boring), excellent. The one-on-one fight choreography in particular was thrilling to watch, and the CGI, while jarring at first, really begins to work well throughout film and towards the end. The action is certainly the highlight of the movie, and in that regard Warcraft succeeds. I’m having some degree of difficulty recalling much of the film’s score, but I do remember hearing the game’s Stormwind music playing over our first view of the city, and cute references like that (polymorph! murlocs!) were sprinkled throughout the film in enjoyable little reprieves from the tediousness of the characters.
I do not regret seeing this movie, and I really did enjoy myself. I grew frustrated much of the time, but I’d buy a ticket to the sequel in an instant (and a ticket to the third film – Warcraft III is one of my favourite video-games of all time and I want to see Arthas on the big screen!). For all its flaws, Warcraft is still an ambitious and captivating (most of the time) film. It’s the lack of immersion that disappoints, the world of Warcraft that lets it down. It needed to be longer, the audience needed a chance to settle into the world and get to know the characters.
I stand by my preexisting opinion that Resident Evil is the best video-game film we’ve had, but I’ll give Warcraft second place. I’m a little bit sad that we’ve still never had an excellent one, but maybe Assassin’s Creed will change that later this year. I’ll try not to get my hopes up.