Let’s kick off this review of Warcraft with the disclaimer that it’s written by someone who has never played the game. Before you fire off that hate email, please keep in mind that it should not be necessary to have familiarity with the source material to enjoy a feature film. Moviegoers didn’t need to have read a page of Lord of the Rings to enjoy the film franchise and it wasn’t just existing Tolkien fans who catapulted the movies into mega-blockbuster territory. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, every DC and Marvel movie…all of those films are judged on their own merit, separate from the books that inspired them. To say you must have played hours of Warcraft to review a Warcraft movie would be akin to saying you have to be a police officer to review a cop film or a singer/dancer to review a musical. If you want to know how similar the movie is to the video game world, look elsewhere. This is not the review you should be reading for that analysis. Full disclosure complete; moving on to the actual review.
Warcraft (the film) is loaded with orcs, dwarves, elves, and humans, some of whom switch allegiances and most of whom you won’t care much about by the end of the film. Set up as the first in a series of Warcraft movies, the world known as Azeroth is established as an Earth-ish environment with different lands, all overseen by someone referred to as the Guardian. Into this peaceful planet plop a bunch of warrior orcs who have left their own dying planet behind to establish a new orc world on Azeroth. This ‘traveling through space, arriving on a new planet’ trick is done via a green portal powered by head orc Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) who’s unusually creepy looking even for an orc and who’s strangely reminiscent of Uncle Deadly from The Muppets (only with green highlights and less flesh). Gul’dan is the master of the gooey green stuff that is produced by dark Fel magic, something I didn’t figure out for quite a while into the film as I kept hearing “Fel” as “Veil.” My misunderstanding of the name is easily explainable as the orcs aren’t exactly into enunciating their words, something which makes following the story at times a tad bit difficult.
The orcs immediately begin attacking and destroying anything and everything they encounter once they’ve landed on what they’ll soon declare to be their new homeland. But then one orc decides perhaps this Gul’dan dude is completely crazy and the Fel magic has made him lose touch with what all good orcs should really care about. (Note: the orcs would kill and destroy without Gul’dan, but they would do so by brutal strength, not personality-altering magic.) So, good orc Durotan (Toby Kebbell) – who is also a new father and very protective of his wife and child – believes he can gather a band of like-minded orcs to join with the Azerothians (or Azerothonians) to strip Gul’dan of his leadership now that he’s lost his mind to the dark magic.
Meanwhile, the Guardian aka Medivh (Ben Foster) does his best to protect Azeroth using magic, aided by an upstart mage named Khadgar (scene-stealer Ben Schnetzer) who the Guardian thinks is trying to usurp his place as the guy in charge of protecting the world. Also fighting the good fight is Vikings star Travis Fimmel as the heroic Anduin Lothar who doesn’t need magic to kick ass. Anduin is fighting to protect his people and to serve his king and queen, played by real-life couple/Preachers co-stars Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga.
Because every action film has to insert a love story to widen its potential audience base, Paula Patton’s on hand as a half-orc who falls for Anduin’s impressive fighting skills. Speaking of fighting, there’s lots of it although who exactly is fighting who is often hard to tell. It’s also difficult to tell one orc from the other, making it easy to lose track of the one who’s supposed to be siding with the humans.
The CG action is occasionally impressive, with griffins arriving in the nick of time to save the day and massive wolves (transported from the orc world) providing transportation/battle support. There’s even a Gollum to contend with in this weird Clash of the Titans/Lord of the Rings hybrid. And, just to make things as truly surreal as possible, a six-time Oscar nominated actress shows up for one of the most bizarre (and jarring) cameos ever in a feature film.
Look, I don’t play video games but I do enjoy good action films. Writer/director Duncan Jones, tackling his largest budgeted film to date, does actually deliver a few action scenes that are genuinely entertaining and visually striking. The main problem is the characters are simply not all that interesting. Only Schnetzer’s Khadgar and Patton’s Garona express more than one emotion, while Foster’s Medivh is easily the most annoying character to follow. If you don’t catch onto his entire arc by the end of his first scene, then you’re simply not paying any attention.
With all the orcs and magic and whatnot to show off, there’s very little time actually devoted to humanizing the main characters. The Warcraft video games apparently have a complex story, but the feature film keeps it all at a surface level and never provides any reason to ever want to catch up with these characters, or this world, again.
MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: June 10, 2016