Director: Duncan Jones
Cast Headliners: Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbel, Paula Patton, Daniel Wu, Ben Foster
Original Release Date : June 10th, 2016
The Warcraft franchise could be argued to be one of the most iconic video game series of all time, helping to define and popularize both the RTS and MMO genres. Its extremely dense and rich colorful world of orcs, elves, dragons, magic, and more could be said to be ripe for a film take. Finally after almost a decade of development and iterations, the movie version is here. And while it is on the upper end of the scale of video game adaptations, it falls victim to those common traits as well. However to a game fan, it’s surreally awesome to see key locations brought to life while also offering some cheesy fantasy fun to newcomers as well. It’s an ambitious undertaking to tackle this franchise, and it gets many things right and wrong.
Perhaps what sets it apart from most game films is that the story here is largely directly cribbed from the 1994 video game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans with some fleshed out perspectives, retcons, and changes giving a modern look at the “First War” event in the game’s lore from two decades ago. While it is not the most exciting and unique heights of the saga (no cosmic space spirits or pandas here), it is a straightforward base that offers a solid starting point for a film franchise and to newcomers. The movie, unlike some in the fantasy genre, gives the perspective of two very different factions.
The orcs (imagine Lord of the Rings’s equivalent mixed with the Hulk from Marvel) are shown in semi-sympathetic light as they invade from their dying world to the human dimension of Azeroth. There’s noble orcs like Chieftan Durotan(Toby Kebbel) and his wife Draka(Anna Galvin), the conflicted and awesomely named Ogrim Doomhammer(Robert Kazinsky), and the pure vile evil of war leader Blackhand(Clancy Brown) and the primary antagonist in the warlock Gul’dan(Daniel Wu). All of the orcs are portrayed through motion capture needed for their frames, and their effects and characterization are some of the film’s best aspect. Drawn right out of the game and compelling in their own right, their scenes are intense and barbarically fun. Kebbel as Durotan is a cool sort of progratonist with a motivation that creates empathy for his rebellious reasoning. Most great from the orc side of all is Daniel Wu, who gives Gul’dan a fearsome vile demeanor right from the cd-rom and brings an orc to life to seem real. On their own, they feel like and rival the best of Blizzard Entertainment’s original video game cinematics.
The film uses an extreme amount of CGI effects, which perhaps makes sense with the source material. But while it makes sense for orcs and other creatures, and the at times beautiful vistas/locales(created 100% right from the World of Warcraft MMO in some cases, which to a fan is the one of the film’s best aspects recreating its vibe) it can be cheesily jarring when mixed with the film’s weaker aspect, the humans. It ranges from neat to weird to see live actors with CGI medieval armor or riding fake horses alongside real ones.
That’s not to mention the human characters and actors are mostly lame. The “hero” of the overall film is the knight Anduin Lothar(Travis Fimmel). He gives an ok look into the film and an very slight emotional connection with his son Callen(Burkely Duffield). But he has a weird performance that ranges from extra unlikeable jerk, awkward forced romance nearly Anakin Skywalker tier with half orc Garona(Paula Patton), or lackluster “humorous” moments with mage Khadgar(Ben Schnetzer). He is not a hero one cheers too much for, nor many of the other humans in the kingdom of Stormwind. Patton’s Garona has some unconvincing makeup clashing with her orc peers and an even worse mediocre performance. Schnetzer’s Khadgar throws a cool spell or two but does not incite laughter. King Llane(Dominic Cooper) and queen Lady Taria(Ruth Negga) semi-lacklusterly are there to speak exposition text and move scenes along. It’s ironic that these live actors have less impact than CGI creations. One standout human, interestingly a bit of the magical counterpart to the Orc’s Gul’dan, is the Guardian wizard Medivh, played with game perfect larger than lifeness by Ben Foster who could have used more screentime.
The director Duncan Jones has never really quite something as visually ambitious and epic scale as this film. He trades in his previous twisting storylines from other works for a mostly straightforward tale setting up decent action. The live and CGI mix becomes more digestable in the battle sequences which is a credit to him but becomes apparent when things slow down. But the thing about game movies is they may always have cheese, coming from a arguably different source of enjoyment than movies. He did what he could and while some pacing and effects mixing are hazy , when it’s good its decent, especially for a fan. But also to his credit, the elements are used as to not be( but almost just barely) overwhelming to an outsider.
It’s far from a perfect fantasy, game, or overall movie. But that was always going to be the case adapting this huge and varied world. For life fans it will deliver that “feeling” that’s been wanted if making some lore changes and not bringing that same goodness of orcs to all aspects. To an outsider, it’s hyper fantasy to a level even beyond Tolkein may take some effort to swallow but the action and most visuals will excite. Hopefully a potential sequel can learn some things and go to cooler places, and while its doubtful this is the one to kick off the wanted games to movies trend, for what it is Warcraft delivers on the most important aspects it should if not without some moderate missteps. 7.75 out of 10