By: Samar Khan
Hollywood has unsuccessfully tried to adopt all manner of video games to the big screen for years and its latest attempt, unfortunately, is as divisive as can be, furthering the argument that video game cannot be made into films. Duncan Jones proved himself to be an excellent director of sci-fi oriented films but his initial foray into high fantasy, unfortunately, lacks the appeal that will draw all manner of audiences in. This is our review of Warcraft, a film that wasn’t bad, wasn’t good but was just… there.
So, what exactly is this about? When people initially saw the trailer, the images of Orcs (those green creatures that are not unlike the Uruks from The Lord of the Rings films in style) and medieval-type sword fighting with supernatural creatures immediately brought about a sense of curiosity. Add in the fact that the source material being adapted was from Blizzard Entertainment’s highly acclaimed Real-Time Strategy video games of the same name and a Massively Multiplayer Online game titled World of Warcraft and expectations were raised even higher. Despite the subject material being of the utmost quality, adapting video games that generally are 20+ hours in length into a 2-hour runtime was always going to be difficult, especially when factoring in the difficult decisions of what to keep and cut out. That’s where the issue for Warcraft seemed to rear its ugly head, however, as the director and studio’s inability to make the film more accessible to non-fans of the Blizzard video games means it ends up being a muddled mess.
Without spoiling anything for our readers, the story was fairly simple. The film is set in a fantasy realm that is full of mythical creatures, difficult-to-pronounce characters and names, and cities that teeter on the border between medieval and fantasy. It follows the Orcs, who leave their homeland of Draenor and transport themselves via a portal to the human-filled city of Azeroth, where war ensues. Both sides have issues deciding whether compromising or fighting is the path forward. The Orcs side has the usual tropes: a soldier (named Durotan and played by Toby Kebbell in a motion-capture performance) believes war isn’t the way to go and tries to convince his Warchief (Blackhand, played by Clancy Brown) of this while the Warchief has certain people whispering in his ear that war is the way to go (a great performance by Daniel Wu as Gul’dan). The other side has a loyal human soldier (Anduin Lothar, played by Vikings star Travis Fimmel) who wishes to do nothing but ensure his King and Queen (played by the criminally wasted Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, respectively) receive the best possible outcome from any sort of conclusion to the war with the Orcs.
Ben Foster (from a personal favourite film of mine, 3:10 to Yuma) fails to deliver in his role as a Guardian of Azeroth named Medivh. The film doesn’t exactly shy away from pointing out his role in the film, with his introduction being “crazy guy creating a Golem” setting up his role in the film’s climactic events.
Anyway, the film then spends roughly two hours exploring the banality of war, with both Durotan and Lothar being involved in multiple melodramatic scenes designed to play up the notion that war is something that affects both sides. While said notion is commendable in thought, it’s execution in the film isn’t as grand as it should be, with audiences failing to really connect to the issues that plague our two heroes throughout the film. To put it bluntly: there was very little reaction throughout much of the film and many audience members were audibly yawning and/or checking their phones throughout, a testament to the film’s inability to draw the attention of the viewers in.
Paula Patton also plays a key role in the film as Garona, a half-orc half-human hybrid who finds herself caught between the two sides, unable to decide who to side with. She’s one of the more notable stars in the film and yet was objectively mediocre, with her fangs and green skin contrasting with some of the nicer CG visuals and making the character seem rather poorly rendered in comparison.
The aforementioned point about Ben Foster failing to resonate with audiences speaks to a major failing of the film itself. Foster has built a career out of great to stellar performances as a serious, no-nonsense type of fellow and his style just clearly does not seem to fit with what the film was trying to set up his character as. Multiple times throughout the film, there were scenes where I and many around me were unclear whether the film was trying to be intentionally campy or was just failing at portraying a sense of seriousness. You know how you can watch a film such as Big Trouble in Little China and immediately KNOW the film is campy and enjoy it because the film revels in said campiness? Warcraft can’t decide what it wants to be and that drags it down.
Not everything about the film was bad, however. The visuals in most cases were top notch (Paula Patton’s character and some segments with poor background CGI notwithstanding) and the soundtrack was excellent, providing the film with the kind of epic score in scenes you associate with fantasy epics. Much of the motion-capture was excellent and the performances of Fimmel and co., while not mindblowing, were certainly more than passable. In fact, said acting, soundtrack and visuals help elevate the film’s score quite a bit and showcase it has many bright spots.
The issues remain, however, that the film was clearly designed to appeal almost primarily to gamers familiar with Blizzard Entertainment’s games and that is a shame. While Ubisoft is going all out in attempting to make the first Assassin’s Creed video game film relatable to audiences (simplifying many concepts while remaining true to the core tenets of the games, at least according to what can be gleaned from the trailer thus far), Universal and Blizzard tried to appease their set of gamers by condensing a massive amount of lore into approximately 2 hours. While commendable, it drastically limits the film’s appeal and goes against what made Duncan Jones a rising star in the directorial ranks, with the auteur reduced to essentially making the first film in a series based off of a cartoony medieval world delivered in CGI 3D.
Should you watch it? If you are fan that is familiar with the works of Blizzard Entertainment, I recommend it BUT go in with lowered expectations and the film will be fine (this was the consensus I gleaned from the few Blizzard fans in attendance at our premiere). If you desire fantasy and what not in addition to the Game of Thrones you are already watching (be honest, all of you watch HBO’s gem of a TV series), just go a re-watch The Lord of the Rings films and enjoy the ultimate high watermark of the genre.
The Film Lawyers have decided to grace Warcraft with a grade of D (5.4/10).