The release of the Warcraft movie was an almost surreal experience for me. I’ve been a fan of the Warcraft series, as well as most of Blizzard’s other properties, ever since I started playing games at a young age. I always dreamed of seeing my favorite characters and worlds on the big screen, but I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when Blizzard’s logo came up during the film’s opening credits. Warcraft’s story is over twenty years in the making at this point, and after hearing about one game-movie adaption disaster after another, I came into the theater with very low expectations. Apparently, so did everyone else. Many average critic scores shot below 25%, putting it in the territory of movies like Pixels and Battlefield Earth. Despite all of the negativity before the U.S. release weekend, I thoroughly enjoyed Warcraft and look forward to a director’s cut to fill in extra scenes and give the film time to breath.
Unlike how many non-gaming critics have described the film, Warcraft is not a World of Warcraft adaptation. To put the Warcraft franchise in perspective, Warcraft 1, 2, and 3 could be compared to books or movies with distinct beginnings, middles, and ends. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, is more like a television show, an on-going experience that has distinct story lines akin to seasons. Warcraft: the Beginning, as it’s called overseas, takes on the origin story of the first Warcraft game, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Without spoiling too much, the movie follows the paralleled stories of Durotan, an orc chieftain of the Frostwolf clan, and Lothar, a human general. Along with his people, Durotan is lead by an orc warlock Gul’dan, who uses dark magic to open a portal to a land called Azeorth. The orcs aim to invade Azeroth to claim the world for their own, as their homeworld of Draenor has fallen into ruin. Chaos ensues as the invading orcs meet their human counterparts. Warcraft leaves behind one overarching moral: there is no such thing as entirely good or entirely evil in war.
Duncan Jones, the film’s director, does a great job in simplifying the story for a wider audience without cutting or changing much that is essential to the story. His greatest feat is making the orcs likable, despite their brutish and sometimes cruel nature. Durotan is easily the best acted, most interesting, and best looking character. In a rare moment of calm, Jones allows the camera to linger on Durotan’s face, and without dialogue, lets the motion-captured actor express more emotions in one shot than many characters express in the entire film. The rest of the cast is more hit and miss, leaving some unintentionally funny scenes and unintentionally not-at-all funny scenes interspersed throughout, but despite some cringe-worthy writing, the story pulls through. Industrial Light & Magic and Weta Workshops followed in Jones footsteps, championing Warcraft’s brown and green characters as some of the most beautiful CGI brought to life. Some landscapes look better than others, and many of the lesser orcs look almost ugly compared to Durotan, Gul’dan, and Ogrim, but overall, the visuals of Warcraft maintain the cartoony feel from the games, while also showing just how far computer graphics have come. Once the credits rolled, I felt a strange mixture of confusion, excitement, and wonder, leaving me thinking about Warcraft for almost a week afterwards.
If you didn’t know by now, I’m here to tell you that Warcraft has problems. Iffy acting, bad dialogue, an almost complete disregard for pacing, and what felt like more than a few unfinished story threads limit the theatrical release’s appeal. In a strange coincidence bordering on possible conspiracy against my childhood, many of the issues seem to be of similar origin to those that plagued the Hobbit trilogy. There’s a great video on Youtube where many people working on the Hobbit movies described how Peter Jackson had to “wing it.” I suspect Warcraft’s development was similar, as it felt like a passion project cut short and slapped together by higher-ups in an attempt to make back their investments. It’s sad to see something with so much promise make so many mistakes, but I can’t blame any one person, especially not Duncan Jones. I am hopeful that they allow him to release a director’s cut to flesh out the film, but I’m even more excited to see what he can do with subsequent films in the series, especially with the origin story out of the way.
I feel like Blizzard dodged a bullet with the release of Warcraft, despite its negative critical responses. After being announced 10 years before its eventual release, Warcraft’s jump onto the silver screen felt like an inevitability, something to push through despite its issues so that everyone can start working on more interesting storylines in the franchise. Focusing too much on one creative project leads to things like Duke Nukem Forever, a steaming garbage fire that takes twenty years to release and does nothing but disappoint. The Warcraft movie is no where close to Battlefield Earth levels of bad, but if it had waited much longer, I could see it getting there. I had a lot of fun seeing Warcraft, and am glad I finally have something to show my non-gamer friends to introduce them to the fantasy world I’ve spent so much time in, but I have my fingers crossed that everyone has learned their lessons. As long as Jones has the balls to make sure that Warcraft 2 is at least two and a half hours long, rather than trying to cut scenes and jam things together so haphazardly, I have faith that the Warcraft movie series will eventually be comparable to its source material.