FOR AZEROTH AND ITS FANS
Been a video game franchise since 1994, Warcraft has been a dominating force of the world of PC gaming. Created by Blizzard Entertainment, the franchise allowed players to be transported to a sprawling fantasy realm of humans and orcs and additional races later on (elves, night elves, the undead, and so on). At first, the Warcraft series was a RTS (Real Time Strategy) based game as a player would command an army and strategize his attack against the enemy, while also following a designated storyline. After the success of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion back (The Frozen Throne), the series moved from a RTS game to an online MMO or MMOG (Massive multiplayer online game), rebranding its titles with World of Warcraft. This transfer shifted the focus from the player commanding armies to control a single character, but opened up the fantasy world like never before, allowing exploration and dungeon crawling for hours of gameplay. Since then, the Warcraft series has captivated millions with its gameplay (both the original RTS and MMORPG) as well as its expansive lore and mythology within its world of heroes and fantasy archetypes. Now, after being in development for years, Universal Pictures, Blizzard Entertainment, and Duncan Jones, bring the world of Warcraft to the big screen with the movie Warcraft (or internationally known as Warcraft: The Beginning). Does this film bring the PC world of Azeroth to life or is it just a superfluous CGI flop?
The world of Draenor is dying. The orcs, led by Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), have put their faith in the power of Fel, an ancient dark magic that requires the taking of life to sustain power, ultimately leading to temporary creation of a portal that leads to the land of Azeroth, home to the human armies. While King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) struggles to grasp the trouble on the horizon, he sends the Stormwind Commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and the mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) to investigate, with the men making their way to “The Guardian” sorcerer Medivh (Ben Foster). As the orcs start to invade the human lands, the orc Durotan (Toby Kebbell), protecting his wife and newborn son, begins to understand the malice in Gul’dan’s nefarious ways, trying to grasp what their leader is planning while secretly considering a truce with the humans. Also, thrown into the mix is Garona (Paula Patton), a half-orc who’s taken prisoner by the humans, growing to side with their world. As the armies of humans and orcs clash, Gul’dan readies his efforts to seize the land of Azeroth, killing anything that stands in his way.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I will say that I am a fan of Blizzard Entertainment’s games. I’ve played the second and third Warcraft RTS games (Tides of Darkness and Reign of Chaos as well as Reign of Chaos’s expansion pack) and absolutely love them. I even love playing Blizzard’s other games like its sci-fi RTS games Starcraft (I’m currently playing Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm). I’ve played the World of Warcraft (aka WoW) game (the original version) and found it okay (not a huge fan of the MMORPG games). So while I never got on to playing WoW or its multitude of online expansion packs, I’m still invested in reading Warcraft’s expansive history and lore, which is explained in the games’ backstory and in its several novelizations stories. It’s because of this that I was really excited when I heard that Warcraft was going to be made into a feature film. Seeing the trailers for the movie undoubtedly peaked my interest, but also gave me some doubt in this endeavor. After all, video games film adaptations don’t have a good track record with critics and moviegoers. Still, I’m a sucker for fantasy movies. Anything with knights, magic, fantastical creatures, and faraway kingdoms, I will go see (even if it’s bad and / or campy). So I excitedly went to go see Warcraft, hoping the film to be great. After seeing it, I felt that Warcraft is a promising fantasy spectacle, but it’s mostly for the fans of the games. Plain and simple.
Make the jump to PC game to the silver screen, director Duncan Jones, the director behind the movies Moon and Code Source) takes up the mantle of bringing this fantasy adventure to life. Being a fan of the Warcraft games, Jones utilizes a “fan’s knowledge and understand” when crafting and directing Warcraft. Meaning, with a Warcraft fan’s mindset, Jones knows what moviegoers want and are expected to see in this cinematic tale. True to that word, he sure does. Warcraft is a treasure trove of Warcraft delight, seeing the story play out in a sweeping fashion with familiar places and characters in live action or in CG rendered visuals.
Aesthetically, Warcraft is a movie that’s a pure “high fantasy epic”. Larger than life characters, monstrous beings, a grandiose tale of good and evil, all fits within its fantasy persona. From its musical score by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi to its elaborate costume designs by Mayes C. Rubeo, Warcraft is fantasy playground. Even the practical sets design and weapons and armor designs are “heightened” with a gilded ornate finishes and grandiose opulence that it feels like Jones and his team are romancing the fantasy genre with Warcraft. Of course, the film’s visuals are definitely a plus in the movie, utilizing some top-notch SFXs to render some of the orcs with incredible details (facial expressions, body movement, and overall appearance) as well as some of the iconic landmarks across the land of Azeroth from the Dark Portal, Stormwind, Ironforge, Dalaran, Karazhan, and several others. There are some points where I kind of sort of notice that its green screen backdrop, however, it’s still pleasing to the eye and not as glaring obvious as it was in Gods of Egypt.
The true main problem with Warcraft is what its gear towards…. its fans. While fans of the games will most likely enjoy final product of the film, everyone else, however, will have mixed feelings. In truth, the “causal” moviegoer ticket purchaser will probably not get this movie and / or be befuddled by what they see and hear on-screen. That’s because Warcraft assumes that you (the viewer) knows what’s going transpiring in the feature. To longtime fans and gamers, it’s easy to follow (it was for me), but, to the uninitiated, it’s almost like a you’re going to have to do homework / research after seeing the movie. Characters, names, places, magical properties, etc. are dished out really quick with a sort of pre-conceived notion that everyone knows it or has a base knowledge of it. All of this can be “off-putting” to non-Warcraft fans as it feels rushed and a tad bit confusing to follow. In short, it’s like this (borrowing the first lines from the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children movie) “To those who love this world and knew friendly company therein. This Reunion is for you.” Basically, Warcraft is for its fans.
Coinciding with that, is that the movie is trying to serve too many masters in its storytelling narrative. Warcraft suffers from trying to cram a lot into its 2 hour and 3-minute runtime. While establishing the humans and the orcs (and the principle main characters of both races), the various locales and kingdoms of Azeroth as well as telling the story of the “first orc-human encounter / invasion”, which loosely based on the first Warcraft game (Warcraft: Orcs and Humans), it’s a lot to take in. Other large fantasy series adaptations (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, etc.), had more time (whether by feature films or TV seasons) to fully explore the characters, history, lore, and mythology behind their own respective fantasy realms. Warcraft, as it stands as being a single movie (so far at least), overstuff its narrative too much to wholesomely taken in properly and spreads itself too thin. Which might make some believe that the movie is a little bit generic fantasy movie. In addition, like a lot of long running series, Warcraft seeks a movie franchise tag, future forecasting itself for potential sequels. Because of this, the film’s ending seems a bit incomplete as if its Part 1 of 3. I found it to be a bit frustrating as I (being a fan) wanted more. To non-fans, I bet they would be frustrated as well.
It’s also interesting to note that Jones focuses the story on primary cast of roughly six individuals (of both humans and orcs), with each one given a motive and aspiration to drive their character forward. While it’s not something wholeheartedly new and dynamic in character building (again because of the serving too many masters by spreading its narrative to thin), it’s still compelling work for a fantasy genre, a cut above the mediocre features that have come before within its genre (i.e. Eragon, The Seventh Son, etc.).
Most prominent (or rather the most interesting) in the Warcraft movie are the orcs themselves. From the sheer size and physique, these creatures are a sight behold on-screen and do come alive by their motion captured performances. After such a deplorable performance as Viktor von Doom from last year’s failed superhero movie Fantastic Four, Toby Kebbell redeems himself as Durotan, the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan. He’s probably the most diverse of the orcs as Jones gives Kebbell and the character time to develop more nuances than most as well as a few personal moments with his wife, Draka, played Anna Galvin. Behind Kebbell’s Durotan, Robert Kazinsky, recognizable from HBO’s True Blood and Pacific Rim, gets the second-best screen time of the orcs as Durotan’s second-in-command Orgrim Doomhammer. Paula Patton’s character of Garona Halforcen, a half-bred orc who is somewhat rejected by her own people, is given suitable role to play with offering up her character as a fierce warrior and a sympathetic one as she finds her placed between both humans and orcs. The villainous Gul’dan, played by Daniel Wu, sure does show his malice and determination to conquer all (as well as looking awesome), but perhaps a bit cliché at times. Hopefully, if they make another Warcraft movie, the character of Gul’dan will be fleshed out a bit. Lastly, more of a minor character role (but overall still good) is the orc warchief Blackhand, who is played by actor Clancy Brown. He doesn’t talk much, but is still a force to be reckoned with in the movie.
Of the human characters in Warcraft, the most notably who has the largest part is Travis Fimmell as Stormwind Knight commander Anduin Lothar. Fimmell does a good job as Lothar, a role that’s somewhat similar to his character of Ragnar Lothbrok on the History Channel’s drama Vikings, but not as in-depth as it could’ve been. Again, like Gul’dan, I hope the character of Lothar is fleshed out more in possible future installments. The same thing can be said with a lot of the other human characters, including Ben Schnetzer’s Khadgar, a spellcaster that left the magical circle of the Kirin Tor, as well as Ben Foster’s Medivh, an ancient sorcerer guardian, and Dominic Cooper’s King Llane Wrynn of Storwind and his wife Queen Taria Wrynn, played by Ruth Negga. Each one gives great performances (nothing Oscar-worthy, but still favorable), so it’s not their acting that gets shortchanged, but rather the characters themselves, which act like “cogs in the machine” to the film’s world building story and played out in familiar fantasy troupes of the genre. Basically, they help build the Warcraft’s cinematic world and not themselves as fictional individuals.
Worlds collide as humans and orcs fight in the movie Warcraft. Director Duncan Jones fantasy epic brings the popular video game franchise to life with a “origin story” starting point of a possible movie franchise tag. It sure does have the potential with some stunning visuals, interesting characters, and entertaining summer popcorn blockbuster. Unfortunately, the movie can’t escape from its own problems, most notably in its overload of fantasy information explanation (or lack thereof) and in its sprawling narrative in serving “too many masters. Maybe because I am fan of Blizzard’s Warcraft RTS games and / or fantasy movies that I personally liked and enjoyed Warcraft. Sure it had its problems, but I was able to follow it (for the most part) and left wanting more. However, unlike me (and fans of games), causal moviegoers will probably be perplexed by this movie, feeling like the movie is a clone of other fantasy movies). Thus, my verdict for Warcraft is spilt between “recommended” (for longtime Warcraft acolytes and WoW fans) and a “iffy choice” for non-fans (the general public of moviegoers). How this movie will shape up at the box office is unclear. Here’s to hoping we see another Warcraft movie in the future (the storyline from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos would be awesome to see come alive on the big screen) or possibly maybe a Starcraft movie (seeing cinematic versions of Jim Raynor, Kerrigan, and Artanis would be pretty sweet). For now, though, Warcraft is a fantasy tour-de force crowd pleaser for its followers and fans. For Azeroth!
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: June 10th, 2016
Reviewed On: June 10th, 2016
Warcraft is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence