If your favorite part of playing any video game is the unskippable cutscene with noticeably better graphics, Warcraft might be the movie for you. And even then, if that’s somehow the sort of implausibly specific taste in film you have, I’d recommend something like Final Fantasy over this. (And yes, I know that World of Warcraft didn’t necessarily have pre-rendered cutscenes; I tend to abandon fact for the sake of comedy since I’m way too proud of myself and also “missing some neurons“).
Due to knowing how movies based on video games normally turn out (unless they’re Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph) and knowing nothing of World of Warcraft outside of what I learned from watching one of the best episodes of South Park ever, I had no incentive to see this film at first. However, my dad happened to know a few of the people involved in the visual effects work (which, I admit, is very impressive) so me and the brothers tagged along when he went to a local screening “out of respect”. And honestly, I wasn’t disappointed – it was just as bad as I had anticipated.
First of all we meet a good-natured orc chieftain named Durotan (Toby Kebbell), who is surprisingly articulate and easy to understand for someone with massive tusk-like fangs protruding from his mouth corners. He and a few members his endangered kin – including another chieftain voiced by Clancy Brown, his pregnant mate Draka (Anna Galvin), and a surprisingly non-hideous cross-breed between human and orc named Garona (Paula Patton) – are brought to the world of men via enchanted portal, all through the forbidden “fel” magic of a wicked warlock named Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). As the orcs start raiding villages in Azeroth, as the world of good guys is evidently called, its inhabitants – men, dwarfs, whatever – obviously don’t take it too well.
On this side we see a famous, griffon-riding commander named Lothar (Travis Fimmel of Vikings fame), a fearsomely powerful “Guardian” named Medivh (Ben Foster), the ruler of the kingdom (Dominic Cooper), et cetera. The heroes capture the cross-bred orc-human during a battle early on, and later discover that the orcs’ entry into “our” world may have been made possible by someone from “our” side. Regrettably, there isn’t much of a reason to actually care.
The first 15-ish minutes of the film try to develop far too many characters at once, resulting in pretty much none of them leaving an impact or emotional connection. This is due in no small part to almost every line of dialogue being some sort of exposition/plot explanation, particularly among the human characters. And even when there is a slightly more “emotional” conversation between Lothar and his sister (Ruth Negga), it only serves to establish that she is in fact his sister and also the queen – which isn’t relevant to the plot in any manner, by the way. Because of this, I was so bored and disinterested that I found myself zoning out every 20 or so minutes.
The most human character in the film is, ironically, Durotan the Orc and the only one with any fun character traits worth of note is Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who is basically the “clumsy magician’s apprentice”. Other than this, the participants are either walking clichés or exposition dispensers – and in spite of that, the film still fails to explain what certain things are and why certain things happen, especially near the climax. I don’t know what the purple elves or the mostly non-factoring sky wizards had to do with anything. Maybe you’d need to have played the game or read the Wiki, neither of which I intend to. There’s also something about a “civil war” subplot among the orcs and a magical Pandorica that contains Glenn Close, playing what looks to be a mix between Melisandre’s shadow child and Darth Sidious. I don’t know.
It doesn’t matter, I guess, since this clearly isn’t the sort of film you should try too hard (if at all) to think about. And yet, even if I had taken my brother’s advice, turned my brain off and just enjoyed the pretty pictures, that would just give me more room to be distracted by the dreadful editing. It frequently cuts between unfitting shots in a single sequence (making many scenes disorienting) and in lieu of establishing shots or actual segues, it relies exclusively on jump-cutting between locations/points in time or employing jarringly out-of-place cross dissolves. It’s downright embarrassing to watch at times.
I truly hated some parts of this movie, but there were also bits that I really loved. The magic and mythology seemed intricate (but the praise for this should probably be pinned on the makers of the video game) and watching a film with booming sound design in an auditorium with a splendid sound system wasn’t as shabby as all that. It also goes without saying that soundtrack composer Ramin Djawadi (whose first-class work on Game of Thrones has only gotten better with time) does his damnedest to redeem the viewing experience, but whether he succeeded is debatable.
I have heard people call this film “the Battlefield Earth of the 2010’s”. Even if that prestigious title wasn’t held already by 2015’s awesomely loathsome Jupiter Ascending, I wouldn’t go so far as being that harsh on Warcraft. Visually, it seems to emulate the Fantasy world of the original game to great effect (although, it’s certainly incongruous to watch normal human beings alongside exaggeratedly designed dwarfs and heavily stylized orcs) and the usually obnoxious battle sequences have their well-directed moments. As a whole, it is too incompetent for me to avoid giving it a thumbs-down, but I will put a thumbs-up on the side, reserved for the VFX team. It seems only fair.