Films based on video games are a cursed lot. Considering the time and resources that go into the more successful franchises, one would think a similar effort would be applied to a feature film. Unfortunately the powers-that-be still tend to think pretty visuals and special effects are more important than plot and characters and what we end up with is best described as “Tolkien Lite.”
“Warcraft” starts off at a breakneck pace, throwing us into epic world(s) of magic, creatures, and War. A race of orcs are living on a dying world from a different dimension? Realm? Planet? We never learn for sure, except that a gate is opened between their world and the next, a portal that runs off the lifeforce of others. The strongest of the Orc warriors travel over to the new world with the goal of building another portal, imprisoning enough locals to power it, and bringing the rest of the “hoard” over. The soul sucking dark magic employed by their cruel leader Gul`dan (Daniel Wu) is called “The Fell”, an appropriate name as all those who use it eventually fall to its power.
The Orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) is the cliched brutal killer who has a heart. He loves his mate and child as much as he loves crushing skulls. Durotan apparently has no qualms about raiding another world, but at one point complains about attacking unarmed women and children. This is an odd change of personality given the entire mission revolves around sucking the souls from anyone they can. Perhaps he was just optimistic that the women and children would be as vicious as Orc women and children?
Soon they arouse the attention of the humans, led by King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), protected by the powerful wizard Medivh (Ben Foster), and defended by Commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel). Together these three men learn of the incoming invasion, the scourge of the Fell, and try to band together an army to stop them, which mostly involves magically teleporting from one random spot to the next.
Is any of this making sense? Being based on an incredibly successful MMPORG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) series that first started in 1994, there is a wealth of backstory for the filmmakers to tap into. In fact, there are entire Wikis dedicated to this world and the lineage of heroes and villains within it. Clicking on any of the character’s names above will take you to pages about their fictional legacy. Unfortunately, the script for the movie is so poorly written and thrown together it’s uttery incomprehensible. While some may say “It makes more sense if you play the games”, there shouldn’t be required reading to enjoy a summer blockbuster film. Even with all the backstories in mind, the plot has so many logic gaps and bad dialogue it seems as if the writers were themselves cursed by The Fell. Little to no effort is given on establishing relationships between the characters. Near the halfway point, a certain character is slain and with the musical cues it’s obvious we as an audience should be upset, but so little time as been given to fleshing out this character we can barely recall their name! A cross-species love interest seems to suddenly manifest itself from thin air, another plot development we should apparently care about, but again feels forced and pointless. Further disappointing is the nonsensical and completely unfulfilling ending. It’s almost comical when near the very end one character says to another, “Perhaps we did not know them as well as we thought we did!” With so many unresolved story threads, Blizzard is obviously using this film as a setup for their impending franchise. But without characters we’re interested in, who cares?
To director Duncan Jones’ credit, this film is not entirely bad. In fact, the script is it’s only flaw. (albeit a big one) Visually and Audibly, the movie is stunning. Durotan ranks among the very best CGI characters to date. His animation isn’t consistent throughout the film, but there are moments where he looks just as real as the non-animated characters in the film. The line between real and CGI is expertly blurred, which is something most movies continue to struggle with. The 3D effects are also exceptional, shocking considering it was filmed in 2D and post converted. Having a number of 3D modeled characters and environments likely helps with this. Duncan wisely avoids blatant 3D gimmicks such as smoke/fog/pointless foreground objects that sink other post converted films. (ex: In the Heart of the Sea) The sound effects and score, while nothing unique, are perfectly mixed and impactful.
“Warcraft” has every element needed for the perfect epic fantasy film, except a good story and fulfilling ending. It’s disappointing they could throw so much money at this film, and even entice Glenn Close into a 3 second cameo, but not spend the time and effort to create a good script.