(Originally published 6 June 2016)
Warcraft is based on the game series of the same name by Blizzard Entertainment. It is largely influenced by the original RTS game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans rather than the hugely popular MMORPG World of Warcraft, though it takes elements from future games. I have not played any of them. Not a single one. So let this be a statement from someone who has absolutely zero investment in this series and is judging this solely as a movie: why is this getting critically mauled like it is?
A brief plot overview: the homeworld of the Orcs is dying, and a troupe of clans known as the Horde make a desperate bid to escape to another world: Azeroth. Unbeknownst to the Horde, their leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) is using a powerful and evil magic known as the Fel, which is corrupting him. Upon arriving at Azeroth, they encounter a nearby kingdom of humans who become aware of their presence and use of the Fel. With the help of a captive half-orc/human named Garona (Paula Patton), a group of humans led by Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) try to resolve this growing conflict, while Orc chieftan Durotan (Toby Kebbell) becomes increasingly concerned with the magics being used by Gul’dan. That wasn’t as brief as I was hoping it to be.
Despite the…overly long description, Warcraft has a pretty straightforward story. We have our heroes fighting a clear villain for a noble cause. What puts a wrinkle in this is the framing-both sides are portrayed in sympathetic lights and fleshed out enough that you understand their stakes. It’s a rather interesting move in a medieval fantasy.
In fact the Orc characters (outside of the painfully straightforward villain) are probably more nuanced and complex than the human one. The noble but conflicted Duortan and the caught in the middle both biologically and metaphorically Garona are easily the best.
The biggest issue is really the plot-it’s full of contrived moments or stupid, stupid on-the-nose scenes that really do kill any sort of intrigue or investment in an honestly creative story. There’s a scene in the third act that made me just go ‘…huh?’, and it completely takes away from what could have been a pretty powerful finale. Also the climax goes on way, way too long. On top of all these issues, the dialogue tends to be pretty wooden.
Everything else, though? Really well done. Despite the character’s simplicity, I do like the actors playing them, and there are some wonderfully human moments that do help bring up the stakes, particularly the opening with Durotan and his pregnant wife. These moments of sincerity help with the flat characterisation and writing. The action (outside of the cluttered and confused final fight) is great. It’s well shot, creative, has a lot of energy and manages to be serious while embracing how inherently fantastical the world is. Helping flesh this out is some fantastic CG. It blends in perfectly with the bright and colourful Azeroth, never feeling out of place and truly characterising an interesting looking world.
The director is Duncan Jones, who is an inspired choice. He has a great ability to take complex science fiction topics and weave them in a way that are accessible to mainstream audiences without losing said complexities. He takes audiences into this strange and lush fantasy world and never makes it feel overbearing or confusing. While the start of it is a bit exposition heavy, it quickly finds its footing and races along to the finish line, never losing you along the way.
.Be you fan or newbie, you’ll get a kick out of Warcraft. Its likeable characters makes up for how two dimensional they can be, and it’s fun and fantastical settings can make up for how straightforward and weak the plot can be. Also helping it is the surprisingly nuanced framing of war and both its side, with some added themes parental relationships and what can be the true cost of such a conflict.
The one way to describe this movie is ‘earnest’, it knows what it is, does some innovative things with it, and isn’t afraid or ashamed of its source material. It’s by no means the greatest fantasy movie ever made, but it’s a good time at the cinema and a well-realised adaptation of a popular franchise, one which I would not be against seeing more of.
So why the hate, critics? This isn’t the only film out at the moment I think is being unfairly maligned…