World of Warcraft was, at one point, one of the biggest games played consistently by people from around the world. At its peak, it managed to capture the attention of over ten million players worldwide—it was a global phenomenon. So, it was no surprise they announced plans to make a major motion picture based on the franchise lore. With The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit crushing box office numbers, people were poised and ready for a new fantasy world to jump into. Now, years after the initial announcement, a new director at the helm, and a slew of new technology at their disposal, the film finally released. Directed by Duncan Jones, Warcraft paints the world of Azeroth in striking detail, giving audiences a sense they are watching the most expensive cut-scene from a game ever. The only issue is there is no game at the end of this mess…just a sense of confusion and disappointment.
Sticking to the source material, Warcraft spends its 123-minute running time exploring both sides of the “epic” conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. This divided focus has the film following two factions; showing how they interact, grimace, and act like one-dimensional Muppets with little focus or clarity on their motivations. On the one side you have the orcs: a race of dimension traveling, green-skinned warriors. These hulking creatures are lead by Durotan, (Toby Kebbell) a chieftain and new father. Full of honour and angst, he is uncertain of the path his people have set out for them by their evil, death-magic-wielding, shaman leader, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), and wants to find a better. To ensure not all the orcs are made up of pure special effects, we have Garona (played by Paula Patton), who acts as a link between the world of orcs and men.
Standing up for the regal humans, we have Travis Fimmel as the battle steady Anduin Lothar, Dominic Cooper as the king and Ben Foster as the Merlin inspired Medivh. For moral grounding/comic relief, we have Toby Kebbell as Durotan: an ex-mage in training who realizes something is wrong with this new magic of the orcs. Despite having the benefit of not being CGI, these human characters are often the weakest points of the movie. Half the time they feel like they were ripped out of some mediocre Renaissance fair; the other half of the time the audience gets the distinct impression that none of them want to be on set. It is the one-note, human characters that are the cause of many of the biggest problems with the film.
Visually, Warcraft is stunning. The team managed to recreate, in great detail, all the scenes players know and love from the game, from the lands of Azeroth, to the wasteland of Draenor, to the detail in the design of each unique crc and mount. There was variety and a sense of scale and stretch that I did not think was possible to capture on the silver screen. The effects team should be commended on their ability to translate the magnitude and scope of an entirely new fantasy world through the effects they employed. Every ounce of turmoil that twists Durotan as he struggles to find a place for his race in a new world, every corrupt smile sprawled across Gul’dan’s evil face, each flash of fortitude and motherly tenacity that remained omnipresent on the face of Draka, was believable. The problem is, it was often far more believable than anything the humans where doing. It is an issue when a collection of data does a better job expressing emotion than the actual actors on screen.
The story and pacing are the other major issues the film faces. There were clearly some lovers of the franchise working on the script. There are nods to everything fans of the games hoped to see; from the way the world is depicted to the locations they visit. Visual shots of the world of Azeroth bring small callbacks to the titles in the series, with one shot even resembling an overhead strategy game with all the characters appearing as units on a map. Yet with all this, there was no clear motivation or sense of urgency for anything the characters where doing. Events seem to take place at random, with much of the beginning of the film feeling jumpy and rushed. The relationships between the characters is not developed beyond a few throw away lines about a back-story. Despite a run time exceeding two hours, the film felt rushed and missing many important scenes that could further develop the characters.
As with every modern fantasy epic, the film climaxes with an epic battle between the two armies, and as with the regrettable Peter Jackson Hobbit movies, this is where things devolve into the realm of cartoons rather than action movies. It is hard to get a sense of place or character with hordes of CGI people running, slashing, and dying for the film going audience. Despite all the chaos on screen, it still manages to have a sense of scale. The world of Warcraft never looked more impressive, even if it is ultimately shallow.
Warcraft is not a horrible movie. It manages to capture the scope and concept of the game in a film, build a sense of place with a fictional world never before captured in Cinema, and also features believable CGI characters. Yet with all this, the one-dimensional characters, bad acting, and poor script, make this a movie I could only recommend to die-hard fans of the series. It would be fun to revisit the world of Azeroth, but only with a script that makes sense, and a cast that actually wants to be in the film.