Warcraft – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The film begins with the orcish horde, a military collection of tribal clans. Within the horde we find Durotan, a young orc chieftain, who is accompanied by his wife and their unborn child. The horde, under the command of the warlock Gul’dan, makes preparations and sacrifices needed to cross through a dark portal to escape the imminent destruction of their home world, Draenor. This portal takes them into the world of the seven kingdoms, where live humans, elves, dwarves and other races, and where peace has reigned for many years.

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The orcs bring war with them. Upon their crossing, upon the orders of Gul’dan, the orcs begin to wage a guerilla campaign against the humans. As they pillage, they capture villagers for sacrifice in order to open the dark portal again and bring the full extent of the clans into Azeroth and claim the world as their own. Durotan, meanwhile, begins to have reservations about the methods and goals of Gul’dan.

All of the forces of Azeroth, the country the orcs first invade, are put to the test to figure out what is happening and how to stop it. In Ironforge, a dwarfish city, commander Lothar is summoned to Stormwind to discuss the strange attacks and plan how to thwart them. A young mage named Khadgar has found signs of “fell” magic, demon magic, in these attacks. Khadgar recommends they seek out the guardian Medivh.

Will they figure out the truth in time? Even if they do, will they have the strength to fight the might of the horde? These two factions, orcs and humans, collide in “Warcraft.”

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

When you have a film filled with orcs and humans wielding weapons in a medieval setting, it’s obvious that anyone who doesn’t enjoy fantasy will be turned off immediately. However, there is an in-genre distinction to make. Even with a serious tone, the colorful and cartoonishly-proportioned characters and armor, as well as the generous use of magic, means this film will only appeal to people who not only like fantasy but can also accept the more outlandish elements of this film’s design and storytelling. As much as it might like to be Lord of the Rings, it’s not. I mean, we are talking about magical floating cities, portals the size of skyscrapers, and orange and green orc warriors – each built like the Hulk – after all.

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Beyond this distinction, fans of Warcraft, especially fans since the original real time strategy title “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans,” will find the most to latch onto here. The film doesn’t shy away from its lore, and it drops names of people and places so fast that many die-hard fans might have a hard time keeping up.

That isn’t to say that people unfamiliar with Warcraft lore can’t enjoy the film. The film takes place near the beginning of the game lore of the Warcraft series, meaning this is as good a jumping on point for someone unfamiliar to Warcraft as any. The question is, how well do the filmmakers accomplish providing a good and clear movie narrative?

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I’m not going to beat around the bush. This film has a lot of flaws. Pacing issues drag it down, especially near the beginning. While there are maybe two good performances, the rest of the acting varies from just fine to very bad. Some plot elements are vague to a fault. The CGI occasionally looks iffy, and the world doesn’t feel particularly lived-in.

Despite these flaws, there are many good things about the film as well. While the pacing is way off, the plot itself is fairly straightforward and understandable, though there are a few points that could have used some more set-up or payoff. Tragedy can and does strike the characters of the film. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways, and the story doesn’t shy away from violence and consequences.

Durotan is a great character, and we spend a lot of time with him. While the other characters aren’t as engaging as Durotan, many are at least likeable or interesting in their own ways. Lothar in particular nears Durotan in terms of engagement. Also, Gul’dan makes for an effectively vicious villain.

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The action is generally strong. The fights feel real, in the sense that the sound direction makes every impact feel weighty and painful.The CGI is obvious, but once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty good, and it only ever interferes with immersion once or twice. Even if you’re never emotionally touched, this is a perfectly good popcorn spectacle.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit – more than it deserves, even. While I might personally buy it as soon as it comes out, I can’t deny that “Warcraft” won’t be worthwhile for most people. In the end, it’s just a…

Guilty Pleasure

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

Review Format 4 - The Long Take

I’m a Warcraft nerd, but a fairly peculiar one. I got into the franchise through the second game, “Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness,” which was a lot of fun, but the third game, “Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos,” and it’s expansion, “The Frozen Throne,” were what completely absorbed me. From there, I only ever played one month of the mmorpg, “World of Warcraft,” and only slightly paid attention to the lore happenings from there. Despite that, I love Warcraft. It’s one of my favorite game series, and I love the lore, perhaps as much because of the cliches and overly complicated plots as in spite of them.

When it comes to the movie, the lore can be quite dense at times, and I could see someone unfamiliar with the franchise feeling very much rushed through the first third of the film. In fact, even as a solid Warcraft fan, I felt that the beginning doesn’t give enough time for the audience, even fans like me, to get a footing and get to know the characters enough to really care what happens to them.

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Some plot points are very vague. There is a mysterious smoky female character that we don’t ever understand, for instance. This isn’t helped by the wonky pacing that plagues the film. The beginning especially jumps around and has terrible flow from one scene to the next.

That said, they otherwise treat the lore very well. It’s largely faithful to the games and, though the story contains changes, they are few and insignificant in the long-run. There are interesting elements from the original that have odd modern resonances. For instance, the orcs’ reasons in invading Azeroth are rooted in the environmental collapse of their home, and they are as much refugees as they are a warrior horde.

Other twists to the narrative feel bold, including deaths of major characters you wouldn’t expect, in so far as they run counter to the traditional blockbuster tropes that all of the heroes live happily ever after. Forgive me for making a comparison to a flat-out better movie here, but it’s almost like this film is already hitting the down-beat ending of “The Empire Strikes Back,” rather than the high-note ending of “A New Hope.” It gives a distinct promise to the audience of story threads that will continue on in ways that are entirely earned.

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The ending is practically wistful and in how it treats the events of the movie, and it quite nearly hits Warcraft’s tone dead-on, at least if you’re looking at the first game. The future games have a meta humor at times that I don’t think would have been easy to translate to film without completely undermining the dramatic moments.

As a fan, another thing I liked was their commitment to their design. It probably would have been a safer bet to use humans in makeup and prosthetics to create a more “Lord of the Rings” look for their orcs. Instead, they went full CGI and made orcs that look very similar to the way they do in the game. This continues with style choices like the design of the mages, the human armor, the gryphon, and the dark portal. Again and again, they decide to commit themselves to a look more closely resembling the games than a more realistic fantasy setting, and I appreciate that for all the trouble it brings to immersion.

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Durotan is the best character of the film, and the only character the viewer will really feel for, though some of the others get close. Durotan is complex, sympathetic, and honorable. He is our “in” character through which we are to find sympathy with the orcs. I think it’s effective to a degree. We certainly see that orcs can be good, it’s just that Durotan is quite nearly alone in this. Almost all of the other orcs come across as the harsh monsters who love killing and brutality that the humans of Azeroth justly fear.

While this is a criticism of the film’s orc portrayal, it does dovetail nicely with the fact that they did a good job of building a really nasty villain in Gul’dan. His disregard and contempt for life, nature, and even his own people, paired with his powers, make him feel suitably threatening and vile.

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The other “in-between” character we are supposed to feel for is Garona, the half-orc. While her presence is canonical, and had potential to be interesting, I feel like she was by far the worst character in the film. It felt like the director and writers had no clear vision for the character. This translates into Garona’s actress having the worst performance of anyone in the film. It’s not solely the actresses’ fault, but everyone involved in that character deserves a share of the blame. It could have worked, and there are glimpses of promise, but overall it’s a failed attempt.  

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I get the feeling she was chosen for the look…

The human characters are only ok. I like Lothar and Khadgar, certainly, but the film didn’t earn a real emotional attachment to any of them. None of the human characters get enough development, which might be a symptom of the complex plot.

While there are some good actors in these roles, across the board the acting was a solid B tier. Except for Durotan, none of the actors fully sold their roles throughout the film. Everybody had some scenes that just felt off. I wouldn’t compare it to a sci-fi channel film. It’s definitely above that. However, it’s not up to the level of the better movies from Hollywood.

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I believe it’s partially due to odd casting choices. Every single human who didn’t live in the archmage floating city was ridiculously young looking. No wonder the humans weren’t ready for the orcs; they were ruled by a bunch of twenty-something (one or two early-thirties) baby-faces with no experience.

The human culture isn’t developed much at all, and there are very few moments where the world feels lived-in. I understand this with the orcs. They are a war band on the move. However, there are these gorgeous vistas of human cities, but we never get a sense of who is living in them, or what their lives are like.

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In fact, the whole film often feels like it’s being shot on a small green-screen stage – which it probably was. This is terrible for a movie that bills itself as having an epic scope. All it would have taken would be a few small extra scenes in bustling cities, or other world-building touches to fix this feeling. I would have much prefered to see a three-hour long film that effectively engaged me with its characters and world, than the two hour film we have received, which doesn’t have enough time to make these connections. Even an additional half-hour would have been enough time to build the characters more effectively.  

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While this may have been partially caused by the extensive use of green-screen, the CGI isn’t usually a bad thing. In fact, the CGI is usually quite good. The production quality is unarguably high. However, it takes a while to get used to, especially when the humans and the orcs start having extensive scenes side-by-side. There are also a few wonky moments, where something just seems off about the visuals, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is wrong.

Still, the people behind it had their work cut out for them, and the filmmakers chose good people to make it all work as best it could. For instance, their choice for composer, Ramin Djawadi, was excellent. While the music never quite reaches the height of the franchise, the music for the film is quite good.

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Conclusion and Star Rating:

“Warcraft’s” two greatest flaws are its pacing and Garona’s character. Outside of those two, nothing else is an outright flaw but only perhaps weaker than it should be. The film could definitely be better, but it could also be much worse. I had low expectations going in, and I was pleasantly surprised overall. There are a lot of good things to say about the movie once past its problems.

For all its flaws, the film reawoke the fan inside me, and made me want to go back and delve into the world of Warcraft. It had several decent characters and one great one. It’s plot was good, it’s production values were high, and the action scenes were engaging and spectacular.

I enjoyed my time at the movies, and that’s the primary thing this film had to do to be successful. While I will never place this film on a par with “The Lord of the Rings” or the Marvel film franchise, I will still say that “Warcraft” is a “Good” movie.  

3 Stars

Three out of Five Stars

Review Format 5 - Spoiler Talk

Durotan’s story feels very much like a prequel. Everything he and his wife do end in failure. He tries to ally with the humans unsuccessfully. He is betrayed by his friend. He is unable to save his clan from destruction. He can’t save his wife from death. He dies fighting Gul’dan in single-combat in heart-wrenching fashion, yet he retains his character and honor.

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The film does a great job conveying the idea that his character and strength – his legacy – will be continued through his orphaned son Go’el, which will come to be known as the hero Thrall. This was the wistful element of which I spoke. It feels very much like this whole thing was a setup for thrall, and that the real story of the orcs, and their redemption, begins with him. This is all true to the story of the games, of course, but I felt it strong enough here to point it out.

As a side note, his name, “Go’el,” has a meaning in Hebrew that seems especially appropriate. It means “redeemer.” It often would refer to someone, a close relative, usually, who would avenge or right the wrongs of their relative. That is exactly what Thrall eventually does for the orcs. It’s a nice touch.

So while Durotan’s death was really impactful, the death of king Llane, on the other hand, was fairly underwhelming to me, at least in terms of why it had to happen. The whole plot point that brought Garona back into the fold with the orcs, gaining honor, felt forced. In the original storyline at least she was being mind-controlled and forced to do it.

Llane’s death only gained any consequence for me when Lothar showed up to claim his body. That whole sequence was really great. I enjoyed his battle with Blackhand, and the way the orcs treated him after his victory, and I like how much drama the death adds to his relationship to Garona, even if I don’t buy that relationship very well in the first place.

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The character of Lothar is one of the few characters who near Durotan for me in terms of engagement. There are two of his scenes that fell flat for me and kept him from reaching that level. The first was his scene with Garona as she was putting on her armor. The whole scene felt awkward, He seemed to go from a slight attraction in earlier scenes to creepy-grabby all at once. I would have liked at least one more scene before that one to amp up the relationship somewhat, at the very least.

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The second scene that just didn’t sit right for me was his son’s death, and his reaction to it. I get that he might be feeling that the whole thing was surreal, and he was in shock. It might even be what this character would do in real life, but it just doesn’t feel right to the audience. He doesn’t convey enough sorrow and despair on his face. Because of things like this, Lothar just doesn’t rise to the level of authenticity and connection that I had for Durotan.

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I’ll be honest, I had forgotten that Medivh was responsible for the orcs coming in the first place, so when it was revealed in the movie it surprised me a bit. I like how it all hints at the demons behind the scenes, pulling the strings, setting things in motion for their own invasion. I was half expecting the golem to go full burning legion with green fire. That would have been cool.

Still, it was neat to see scenes and events that work in their own right, but the audience won’t fully understand until later. Everything about this film lays the groundwork for future installments. Like I said previously, this film ends like “The Empire Strikes Back” in that there are so many threads left unresolved, and the heroes are basically defeated.

When you think about it, the film really does end with the heroes reeling. Durotan is dead, and Ogrim seems to be exiled. King Llane is dead, and Lothar believes Garona killed him through betrayal. Though the humans prevented the dark portal from reopening, they lost the battle to the orcs, and I get the feeling that closing that portal is only temporary at best. Medivh, the guardian, betrayed Azeroth and is now dead. Aside from Lothar’s badass victory in single-combat versus blackhand, the defeat of Medivh, and preventing the use of the portal, there is very little victory to be had for our heroes.  

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I think the scene that sealed the deal for me in terms of how much I managed to enjoy the film, despite its faults, lies solely with the final scene, in which a baby Thrall is carried downstream on the river’s current, and washes ashore to be found by humans. That connection and setup with one of my favorite characters put the film into context for me, and gave me something to look forward to. I want sequels, and I want them to learn from the mistakes of this film so they can make the next movie much better.

That’s it for now. Until next time!

     – Druidan

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