Warcraft is a film that never quite stands on its own legs; it toddles around with gusto and desire, but rarely takes more than a few steps without stumbling straight onto its ass. I guess I can’t really blame the film—after all, the mountain of weight on its shoulders is enough to crush it. It has to successfully adapt one of the most popular video games franchises of all time—the fans of which are known obsessives about things like detail and accuracy—and attempt to resurrect the idea that video games can and should be a fine place to find narratives to bring to life on the big screen.
So maybe a few missteps and ass-shattering tumbles are to be expected. It’s arguably unfair to ask any movie to carry the weight of expectation that Warcraft attempts to carry, and perhaps it’s unjust to expect of it perfection. Perhaps a tempered expectation is the way to approach things.
That shouldn’t be too hard, of course. The film has, in advance of its release, been relentlessly pilloried by my critical compatriots—and, I might add, for not unfair reasons. It’s difficult not to view Warcraft as the latest example of CGI excess, with more attention given to the look of the film than with crafting a solid narrative. Obvious heavy edits destroy any semblance of sense as the film moves from scene to shining scene without the benefit of solid exposition, creating confusion among the members of the audience without experience in the World of Warcraft game series (according to some reports, the film originally handed in by director Duncan Jones [Moon] was around 40 minutes longer than the film delivered to us).
This results in a narrative that feels slipshod and haphazard. Events happen without explanation as the film struggles along a pre-determined path. There are the obvious good guys: an alliance of humans, dwarves, elves, mages, and a few unnamed races known as, well, the Alliance; there are the obvious bad guys: a horde of raiding Orcs known as, well, the Horde. It’s pretty clear for whom we’re supposed to root, just as it’s clear whom the victor of the impending epic final battle will eventually be.
In that way, Warcraft doesn’t stray too far from the well-worn path of high fantasy. There’s the Noble King (Dominic Cooper), his Valiant Queen (Ruth Negga), the Lovable Rogue (Travis Fimmel), and the Mystical Advisor (Ben Foster). I assume that these characters all have names, of course, but whatever. In a high fantasy such as this, names are less important than archetypes.
On the other side there are a bunch of other characters who are mostly indistinguishable from each other. I mean, I don’t want to sound racist but I honestly can’t tell one Orc from the next. I guess the only two you really need to know about are the Valorous Chieftain and Evil Leader, one of whom questions the decision making process of the other, leading to all sorts of merry internal Horde strife.
I guess if you’ve got to give Warcraft anything, it’s this. Under Jones’s direction, an attempt is made to present both sides of the story in a balanced manner. There are ruminations on good and evil, necessity and needlessness. The film never paints the Orcs (indistinguishable though they might be) with a single brush stroke. It becomes clear that many in the Horde doubt the validity and sanity of their Evil Leader, whose mind has been corrupted by an evil magic known as the Fel. And, of course, there’s someone on the good side who has also fallen victim to the corrupting nature of the Fel (you should probably be able to see this coming).
My guess is that this is all more apparent in the original 2 hour and 40 minute cut, however. It seems pretty clear that Jones has attempted to craft a film that focuses more on the grey than on black and white, but I guess that’s too much for audiences of high fantasy. Or studio executives, for that matter. Studio executives like things to be spelled out plainly. Moral ambiguity is just too much to handle.
Still, Jones does prove to be mostly able to handle CGI driven battle sequences that manage to mildly impress. It might have been more impressive 10 years ago, but what are you gonna do, you know? Humans stab Orcs with awesome swords; Orcs use mighty hammers to smash things. And really, when you get right down to it, I guess you can say that, as a personal rule, I’m generally pro-Orcs-smashing-things-with-mighty-hammers, so there are plenty of moments where I found myself feeling Warcraft, philosophically.
Even though Warcraft is pretty bad and riddled with horrible dialogue, cringe worthy lines, eye rolling plot points, and a familiarity that makes it terribly predictable, I found myself actually enjoying the movie. Maybe that has something to do with a personal bias I have towards fantasy. I dunno. I’ve never played World of Warcraft, nor have I ever had any particular interest to go down that path. But I do love me some fantasy, and somehow, despite itself, Warcraft does manage to create an entertaining trip into a fantastic world.
It certainly won’t be for everyone. I can’t imagine that casual moviegoers will walk away feeling impressed with Warcraft, but I think that fans of the video game and the tabletop RPG that inspired it will enjoy seeing the world come to life. I imagine they’ll also probably be able to make more sense of what is actually going on.
So maybe that should be your guide. If you’re into fantasy, Warcraft is at the very least entertaining, despite its legion of problems. If you’re into the World of Warcraft, you might even love the film for its depiction of the world. In the end, your enjoyment of Warcraft is going to fall directly on the back of your tastes and inclinations. With the right audience, maybe the film can find some help shouldering its burdensome weight and maybe, just maybe, help carry the idea that video games are worthwhile sources to mine for narratives.
Warcraft is now playing in theaters everywhere.