By Michael Kaye
I'm a complete outsider when it comes to the Warcraft franchise. I've never personally played any of the games, but I've always been had a fascination for the lore. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres of fiction, and it's been ages since we've had a good movie not based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. And don't even get me started on the poisoned well that is video game adaptations, which by film standards have never been good. So yeah, that's a lot of pressure for director Duncan Jones and the first big screen adaptation of Warcraft.
Here's the story. The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.
Good news everyone! This is the first genuinely great video game adaptation. Is it perfect? Hell no, but it's certainly ambitious, and it's a HUGE risk for Blizzard Studios and Legendary that hopefully pays off in the long run. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, I love the look of this movie. Duncan Jones should feel pretty honored, as he got to team up with Industrial Light & Magic to bring this property to life. Even though I didn't see this in 3D, I still felt like I was in Azeroth, right at the heart of the action. Speaking of which, all the action scenes with the Orcs looked amazing. Magic plays a pretty big part in this film, but some of the effects looked like they belonged in a live action Dragon Ball Z movie. So, if any studio is brave enough to give that another shot, ILM should be the first ones you call.
As far as the acting is concerned, the Orcs were most certainly the highlights. The character I cared the most about was Toby Kebbell's Durotan. Kebbell has already proved how great he can be working with performance capture in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but here he takes it to a whole new level. He's probably the most well developed character in the entire film. Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu were pretty solid as the main antagonists Blackhand and Gul'dan, wielder of the dangerous fel magic. My other favorite character aside from Durotan was Paula Patton's half breed Garona.
The story, co-written by Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones, was as good as I hoped it would be. At no point did I ever feel lost while watching the movie, despite my lack of knowledge of the mythology. Knowing Blizzard and how oh so greedy they can be, it's obvious that they want to make a franchise out of this, and I'm all for it. I like stories that have even the slightest traces of moral ambiguity, as that can provide interesting obstacles for our heroes. For example, not only are Durotan and Garona trying to save the Orcs, but they also want to make peace with the people of Azeroth. Same goes for Lothar, who's only trying to save his people from the coming invasion.
The last definitive positive I have goes to composer Ramin Djawadi, who once again does a solid job with the music. I was wondering why certain fight scenes had a rather Pacific Rim vibe to them until I realized, that's the same composer who worked on both films. Not every composer needs to be John Williams or a Hans Zimmer, who usually create great main themes. Sometimes it's enough just to set the right tone for a particular scene, be it grand crescendo for the climax, or something softer for two characters talking to one another.
I don't really have any "pure" negatives per se, just some observations on how this film could have transcended its genre.
First off, while Duncan Jones is an amazing director, having two excellent films in Moon and Source Code under his belt, I feel like he bit off a little more than he could chew here. I commend his complete love and devotion to the source material, but that doesn't mean he needed to be 100% faithful. The film is just barely over 2 hours, but so much was being crammed in that I wish it was 30 minutes longer so it had more room to breathe. I'm probably the only person who feels this way, as some of the more harsher critics would have simply preferred to not see this movie at all. But it's not just the pacing that needed work, it's the tone. Before Jones signed on to the film, Sam Raimi was originally going to direct this movie, and that would have been amazing. No offense to Jones, but Raimi's just a more seasoned director when it comes to blockbusters, and he would be better suited to handle the little stuff that's made all of his films work so well, such as a more playful sense of humor.
Finally, it was the human characters that were rather uneven. The only one who I felt was perfectly cast was Travis Fimmel as Lothar. Much like Durotan on the Orc's side, Lothar was the human who I connected with the most, and I liked his chemistry with Ben Schnetzer's Khadgar, a young mage searching for the truth. Dominic Cooper seemed a tad young to play King Llane Wrynn, but he still delivers a solid performance. The one genuine miscast who doesn't work at all is Ben Foster's Medivh, who seems to be doing an impression of Ewan McGregor playing Christoph Waltz. Wouldn't it have just been better to cast either McGregor or Waltz? I know on the one hand that would be considered typecasting, but on the other hand, they just are better suited for this kind of role.
Overall, I still very much enjoyed Warcraft, warts and all. As a fantasy fan, this was a very satisfying theatrical experience, probably more re-watchable than the Hobbit trilogy. As an outsider to the Warcraft franchise, I am definitely more invested in the mythology, and will probably obsess over looking up various facts throughout the weekend. Honestly, your mileage is going to vary with this one, if you're a hardcore genre fan than you should definitely make a trip to the multiplex this weekend.
Now I wanna hear from you guys. Have you seen Warcraft, and if so what are your thoughts? Also, what other video game adaptations are you looking forward to in the future? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where Ed and Lorraine Warren are returning to investigate the Enfield Poltergeist in The Conjuring 2!