Starring: Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Paula Patton (2 Guns), Ben Foster (Lone Survivor), Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double), Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Ben Schnetzer (Pride), Rob Kazinsky (Pacific Rim), Clancy Brown (Highlander), Daniel Wu (The Man with the Iron Fists), Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Director: Duncan Jones (Moon)
Writers: Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and Duncan Jones
Runtime: 2 hours 3 minutes
Release Date: 30 May (UK), 10 June (US)
Warcraft is a film that has a lot riding on it in the video game community, for it has long been the project eyed as the one that might finally break the video game movie curse. It’s got its creators Blizzard Entertainment supporting it, a wonderfully talented director and massive fan of the property in Duncan Jones, and a budget that is more than ample enough to bring the world of Azeroth to life in an accurate and fantastic manner. All it now has to do is have a well-told story and strong characters…and that’s unfortunately where Warcraft hasn’t quite nailed it.
From a basic story perspective, Warcraft is a solid fantasy adventure that relies on tropes of the genre but also puts some unique spins on those elements to create something fresh. Most importantly, it eschews the traditional good vs. evil conflict and adds dimensions to both sides of the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. It shows that our heroes can be prejudiced and susceptible to corruption, and that our supposed villains can value friendship and honour. In a similar vein, neither side feels like they dominate the other; victory and tragedy occurs on both sides, and by the conclusion there is no finite victory. It’s not quite Game of Thrones levels of complex, but it does genuinely keep you on your toes about which side will win and leaves plenty of interesting avenues to explore in potential sequels. Regrettably, however, a lot of the execution feels fumbled. The story’s pacing is far too fast, especially in the first act as it rushes the audience into the plot without much introduction to key characters and elements of the mythos. Once the film settles in and the story begins to ramp up, it does begin to flow a lot more smoothly, but the hasty introduction makes it hard to be invested earlier on. It does feel like a lot was cut out to make for a breezier runtime, but in the process it’s made the story feel sloppy and overstuffed. The tone of the film is also somewhat inconsistent; at some points it embraces the sillier elements of the lore through comedic asides or references to the game, but at others it takes everything desperately serious in spite of the ridiculousness of the situation.
Having said that, the real stumbling block for Warcraft is in its desperate lack of character. Many of the main characters, especially those on the Alliance side, don’t get much personality or development, too often motivated by the necessities of the plot rather than their natural motivations. Travis Fimmel’s Lothar suffers from this the most, being introduced suddenly with little fanfare despite ostensibly being the main character and his only reason for fighting being a bland son he only shares a handful of lines with. There’s a lot of great potential for a complex character in him, but it feels like they haven’t gone much deeper than you’d see on a brief character summation. This wasted promise is similarly felt in Ben Foster’s conflicted guardian Medivh and Ben Schnetzer’s inexperienced mage Khadgar, who are also too thinly drawn to become invested in their characters. Because of this, there are some big moments in the story that fall flat or don’t impact quite the way they should. It wants us to care about the fates and relationships of these characters, but it simply hasn’t set them up well enough for the audience to do so. In an odd switch to the norm, the Horde characters are far more fleshed out and compelling to watch, especially in the conflicts of loyalty displayed by Toby Kebbell’s Durotan and Paula Patton’s Garona. Motivated by his devotion to his wife and newborn son, along with a strong friendship with fellow orc Ogrim (Rob Kazinksy), Durotan possess everything that all of the characters in Warcraft should have by default. Garona is similarly fascinating as the bridge between the two sides, with all including her unsure of where her alliances fall, and the way her story plays out makes for a tragic character with fantastic promise in further stories.
If nothing else, Warcraft easily takes the title of most accurate visual translation from video game to motion picture. Though I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, the iconography on display from certain sets, creatures, props and costumes feel ripped right out of any of the games, and though many look garish and impractical on first glance they quickly become just another part of the outlandish grandeur of the production. The visual effects are also impressive and look spectacular in motion, even if the orcs never look 100% realistic. There are times when the movie just looks like a cinematic from the games when there’s nothing but CGI characters on screen, but when paired with massive armour and humongous swords of the Alliance characters it all surprisingly melds together. Top it all off with some beautifully sweeping cinematography (that sometimes even mimics the camera of the classic Warcraft games) and a suitably epic score from Ramin Djawadi, and you’ve got a film that certainly looks and sounds epic even when it doesn’t quite feel epic.
Sadly, Warcraft isn’t going to be the film that becomes the blueprint for video game movies moving forward, but it is at least a solid step towards that eventuality. As a translation of the source material, it has all of the elements it needs to be a genuinely great film but it still hasn’t quite grasped that key component: audience investment, and how that differs between the two mediums. In a video game, investment becomes easier because we are in control of far more of the action; we bring far more of our own personality into the experience. But in a film, it’s up to the filmmakers to craft the journey and, through careful manipulation of emotion, make us care about events on screen we have no control over. As much as Warcraft has tried to create a richly detailed world and complex characters to inhabit it, it hasn’t quite done enough to make a passive audience emotionally connect with it. When a video game film can finally grasp that, then we might have finally reached zenith we’ve been waiting for. Regardless of its final quality, I will make this final statement: if you want to see more good video game movies, please go see Warcraft for no other reason than to support an honourable effort and show Hollywood that they are a viable commodity. If you don’t, its failure will be written off as another example that “video game movies don’t work” and we’ll never get anywhere. They haven’t nailed the formula yet, but they are damn close. We just need to give them a few more chances.
FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10