Warcraft, like so many videogames, seems like a property tailor made for the big screen. It has a rich mythology, an abundance of characters, and a lush fantasy setting. However, time and time again we’ve seen that it’s no easy feat to translate a videogame world onto the big screen. Warcraft doesn’t exactly break the trend of awful videogame adaptations, but it doesn’t exactly continue it either. This videogame film does an admirable job of world building and character development, but ultimately, while it may thrill and satisfy longtime fans of the game, those less familiar with the world of Warcraft (see what I did there?) may be less intrigued, and ultimately, leave the film feeling relatively indifferent.
Inevitably Warcraft will be compared with the defining series for the fantasy genre; The Lord of the Rings. After all, like Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Warcraft has orcs and elves and dwarves and humans and magic and creatures and epic battles; pretty much all the basic ingredients needed for an epic fantasy adventure. However, the simple fact is Warcraft just can’t stand toe-to-toe with the one that rules them all. It tries a bit too hard to be a serious epic, and thus at times feels melodramatic. At other times, it tries too hard to be silly and witty and charming, but instead feels rather goofy and awkward. Plus, the moments don’t always flow well with each other, but feel like they’re being plugged into a pre-determined “how to make a fantasy epic for dummies” template where it says “insert comedic moment here” and then “insert romantic tension here” followed by “epic battle scene goes here.” Which isn’t to say there aren’t some genuinely funny moments or exciting action scenes, but because they felt like prerequisites for filling out the “fantasy movie template,” they’re never as engaging or funny or dramatic or epic as they want to be, nor do they always blend well with each other.
Now, just because Warcraft falls short of the best doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It’s fairly enjoyable, especially if one doesn’t worry about completely following everything shown or said on screen, much of which may thrill fans of the game, but often left me feeling a bit lost. My biggest disappointment was the fact that many of the most intriguing developments were basically set-ups for a sequel, assuming one gets greenlight. There are some fun twists to what were fairly routine and bland relationships that take place near the end, which frankly would have made for a far more interesting story this time around, had this first film not been burdened with introducing everything. The film also ends with an orc-Moses type set up that would make for a really fun story, but again, we had to get all the introductory backstory out of the way. So it’s a testament to this film’s world-building efforts that by the end I was ready to see where these stories would go, even if I didn’t feel particularly engaged with all the introductions.
Of course, one can’t discuss this movie without talking about its digital characters. We’ve come a long way from the Lord of the Rings and its one all-CG character in Gollum. With Warcraft, about half the cast is now all CG. Fortunately, these characters are fully realized and nuanced, so it’s easy to forget that they’re CG creations. Their expressions are genuinely emotive, and in a bit of irony, much of the storyline that centers on the orcs has far more heart than any of the ones focusing on the real human beings. That being said, however, there are plenty of times where I had to remind myself I wasn’t just watching one of Blizzard’s supped-up cut scenes from the games; a feeling that’s reinforced by the CG settings for the CG characters.
I only have passing familiarity with the Warcraft and World of Warcraft games, but there were some very die-hard fans in my screening, and they seemed to really love this film version. However, those lose familiar, as I said at the start, may leave the movie feeling fairly indifferent about it all. It’s never really as epic or emotional or swashbuckling or charming as it wants to be, but you can’t fault it for a lack of earnestness. There’s a strong focus on character, even if that focus is mostly spent on the CG characters and not the actual human ones. There’s decent action that really wants to be seen as very cool, and funny moments that too often feel goofy. Yet, despite all of its earnest efforts, I left Warcraft with a feeling that in just a few days’ time, I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone much about (hence I sat down and wrote this review as quick as I could). It’s a decent, but ultimately forgettable attempt to take one of the most popular MMORPGs of all-time and turn it into a blockbuster franchise. But, maybe it will get some new players to try the game (although, as one veteran player pointed out, newbies may end up being very disappointed that the game doesn’t look anywhere near as cool as the movie).
Score: 4 of 7 – Warcraft definitely lives up to the war part of its name, if not the craft. There are some pretty violent and fairly bloody action sequences. Also, there are some disturbing uses of magic. Probably not the best film for younger ones, but even The Lord of the Rings often was darker and more violent than Warcraft.