-A puzzling story and lack of accessibility keep the almost-good action scenes from having lasting impact.
The excuse always gets thrown around about how its not fair to criticize a movie that was made directly for fans or those familiar with the source material. You can see the defense of Batman v. Superman, when the apologists state how all of the references and Easter Eggs make the film worth it in the long haul. Many will say the same about Warcraft, the new fantasy/war film directed by Duncan Jones, based on the extremely popular game series that culminated with the wildly successful “World of Warcraft.”
Warcraft is dense with character references and (most-likely) tributes to the games to make the fans happy, which explains the very divided reaction to this film. Those interested in Warcraft will assuredly appreciate what this film is trying to accomplish, and those that aren’t familiar may view it as an inaccessible mess, a party that you attend where you don’t know anyone’s inside jokes. Say what you want about messy film-making, but feeling left out of the movie’s ideas is one of the worst feelings, and could explain why some reactions are so negative. Truthfully, this isn’t an awful film (as advertised), but it’s certainly not a good one either.
I come from a viewing perspective of someone who is not at all familiar with the lore. Outside of a tiny bit of Wikipedia research ahead of time, I went in fairly cold and was surprised at some of the very good qualities, and also not as surprised from some of the very bad qualities, of Warcraft. Before I describe the plot and get into my thoughts, I want to quick make two points to qualify my opinion about this film and why it’s getting the score that I’m providing it…
- The idea that a film involves the fans by inside references does not make it wholly good. It’s true that Batman v Superman and TMNT 2: Out of the Shadows were both loaded with Easter Eggs pertaining to the lore, hell even X-Men: Apocalypse was, but this fact does not excuse the film for a lack of cohesion or good story-telling. Occasionally getting excited on screen because of a good reference does not make a film good, in the same way that making inside jokes with your closest friends and family does not make you funny. Accessibility is everything in large-scale blockbusters.
- Secondly, a film is inherently bad if it is unable to involve the outside audience. It should be made watchable to all, especially if they want future success for the series. The idea that every big budget film should just be a niche experience for the people who read the comics/play the games/etc is insane. Can’t we just get an exciting film that takes the characters and puts them in a correct sequence of events to create excitement? Why does every large film have to be all about “fan service” when 80% of the people who don’t know the references end up losing? It’s not a surprise that all of these films are getting critically panned when most people are left behind from the story-telling. Just because your pants get a little uncomfortable because of a two second flash of a symbol that only you know about doesn’t end up relating to the larger good of the film. So when people make the “you just don’t know the lore” argument, my response is always: “It’s up to the movie to tell me the lore so I do know it.” Movie critics spend their days actually writing about, teaching, and watching movies, most of them don’t have time to read the 156th edition of ComicBook X. That’s why they end up hating all of these inaccessible shit-heaps.
The film details the ancient struggle between the Orcs and the humans, but delving into the rare alliance between the two when they finally have a common enemy. The Orcs’ land is dying, suffering because of an evil form of magic known as “The Fel” that is controlled by the Shaman Orc-Leader Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu). He’s leading his people through a magic portal that will take him to Azeroth, the land of the humans. Gul’Dan’s wielding of The Fel, which takes a very slimy green visualization, has turned many of his people into power-hungry, green soldiers, taking prisoners from whatever land they conquer and using their life-force to continue wielding the dark magic. Gul’Dan still does hold command over the non Fel-influenced Orcs, like Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the leader of the Frostwolf Clan of warriors. Durotan begins turning against the evil Gul’Dan when he realizes that his pregnant wife Draka (Anna Galvin) may be in danger from the dark magic.
The humans, however, after learning of the potential Orc invasion, are beginning to prep for a defense, led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and his brother/general Lothar (Travis Fimmel). They contact ‘The Guardian,’ (Ben Foster) the most powerful mage in their land, but when he is mostly unresponsive, they contract the help of disassociated mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who may be able to help with the research into combating the Fel. Eventually, the worlds collide. Paula Patton guest-stars as well.
Describing the opening act of this film is trying to describe cliff-jumping. It’s an unprepared launch into unknown territory where a billion, complicated, similar-sounding names are thrown at you in a twenty minute hope to get unfamiliar viewers caught up with the lore. It’s entirely unsuccessful. The beginning just feels like a complete mess, unable to caress the new viewers into the plot, and seeming mostly like a bad cos-play turned feature length film. There’s spots where characters discuss other characters who have already been introduced by name, but there’s no possible way you can remember all of the silly names that are flying from their mouth. A few times I had to backtrack and think: “is that a name of a person, or a place, or a thing? I know it’s a noun, but…”
That’s really why Warcraft ultimately fails. It’s writing is too shoddy to welcome in those who are unfamiliar, and outside of people who have played the games, this film is getting crushed by critics for that reason. It’s not because they’re ready to hate a CGI-driven fantasy film, it’s because no one in their right mind knows what the fuck is happening for the first half-hour. Eventually, however, the context clues, occasionally phone cheating, and resolve to only know the characters by their title and image, not name and characteristics, had me caught up and into the final act. Surprisingly, once I settled in, I found Warcraft to be occasionally enjoyable, a trash-heap with small moments of shiny jewels to get the viewer through. The CGI is really good, the motion capture is solid, and the film is edited in such a way that the action scenes feel brutal. The fighting styles of the orcs and the humans is so different that the contrast creates some really enjoyable moments, most notably a scene in the woods that ends with The Guardian showing some true strength.
Most likely, you’ll walk out as confused as I did about your feelings for this, because any movie with this much attention to detail in the action and the effects deserves some praise, but all characters, outside of the villain, felt pretty one note, and were not aided by any realistic or grounded performances. For the most part, these unknown actors struggled to elevate the shoddy script and were not able to lend any clarity to the opening act. As much as I want to recommend this for its infectious sense of fun and scope, it just doesn’t stay cohesive enough to wholly recommend. So, stay away unless you’re familiar with the material or heed my warnings.
Director: Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code)
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, and Toby Kebbell
with: Ben Schnetzer, Daniel Wu, and Anna Galvin
RT Score: 26%