REVIEW: “Warcraft”

WARCRAFT poster

Certain films enter theaters already burdened under the weight of negativity. “Warcraft” was immediately met with a barrage of snarky ridicule and dismissive criticism. To be fair the horrible track record of video game-based movies is enough to warrant a good measure of hesitation. At the same time the snooty, cavalier approach to the film by many critics was predictable. The presumed shallowness of video games and the condescending attitudes towards anything related to them showed in many of the more ferocious reviews some of which compared this film to the likes of “Battlefield Earth”.

Despite what many may say, storytelling and world building in video games and in movies isn’t that different. The evolution of the platform has allowed writers and developers to craft engaging narratives and immersive experiences within their games. And just like movies some hit their target while others wildly miss their mark.

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Director Duncan Jones brings a special level of intrigue to “Warcraft”. He is a filmmaker who received high marks for his films “Source Code” and “Moon”. But he also comes from a video game background. In an interview Jones revealed a deep passion for the video game space and a knowledge that attracted him to the “Warcraft” property. This affection works heavily to the advantage of Warcraft fans who will easily identify Jones’ respect for the source material. Those unfamiliar with this universe will find it more challenging depending on your expectations. I am versed in the Warcraft universe, just not heavily versed, and I had no problem navigating the world Jones and co-writer Charles Leavitt put together.

“Warcraft’s” ambition reaches beyond a single film. It clearly sets itself up as a series which handcuffs this film to the normal first installment issues. We get a lot of table-setting and we get information dumps aplenty. Many characters are introduced and sometimes the sheer number of them can be overwhelming. At first it can be a struggle to see where everyone fits in, but over time each finds their place within the story. All of this contributes to what is unquestionably a setup movie, yet I quickly found myself engaged in its hyper-fantasy landscape.

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A big reason for that engagement is due to Jones’ heavy focus on character development. It doesn’t do every character justice but for the most part it adds more depth than expected. It offers the mandatory introductions but also tries to define the characters’ personalities and their motivations. Unfortunately it tries to juggle too many which leaves some characters and relationships underserved. Side stories also fall victim to the film’s attempt at tackling too much. It felt like certain plot lines needed more attention, but at the same time their inclusion showed a clear desire to offer more than the usual shallow story and even shallower characters.

It could also be said that some of characters aren’t helped by the casting and performances. Ben Schnetzer instantly comes to mind. His portrayal of a young ostracized mage gets better as the film progresses, but is really rough early on. There is also the odd casting of Ben Foster as mystical Guardian named Medivh. He never seems completely comfortable with his character. While others also show some inconsistencies, Tobey Kebbell certainly does not. Here he once again amazes in a motion capture role. He plays a respected Orc chieftain and a new father named Durotan. He is the most compelling character even though Travis Fimmel is the closest thing to a lead role.

As a whole the story has an entertaining messiness to it that mixes well with my appreciation for the source material. But it should be said that the messiness never leads to incoherence (as some have suggested). The plot is very straightforward and the side ventures into the world’s composition never derail the simplicity of the main story. As I mentioned, some side stories and relationships deserve more attention, but Jones does a good job of spelling out their relevance to the world and his main story.

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I also think the film looks really good. Sure, a CGI-heavy movie like this has moments where the effects are not top form, but much of it serves the fantasy world well. The orcs look spectacular in both appearance and motion capture quality. The world’s locales were also presented vividly and with unique character. Perhaps the worst visuals were in the real life costumes. The human armor is noticeably flimsy and fake. But as a whole the movie presents some wonderful visuals.

Strangely “Warcraft” is a film with noticeable flaws that should significantly hurt it yet doesn’t. It is another popular punching bag for critics yet I still found it to be fun and entertaining. Perhaps it is my affection for the video game franchise. Maybe it is my love for the corny 80’s fantasy pictures like “The Ice Pirates” and “Krull”. The question becomes how does this film work for those without that lighthearted connection? So far it doesn’t seem very well. That’s unfortunate because “Warcraft” actually deserves better.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

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40 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Warcraft”

  1. You went easier on this one than I did. I don’t disagree with many of your points, but the fact is, is that the movie threw a ton of stuff at you, and if you weren’t familiar with the game/s, there was a very strong possibility of you getting lost in regards to what’s going on. For me, the movie hits every mark with flying colors except where it matters most: The story and character development. The Orcs were awesome, but the human characters were…meh. The movie feels incomplete to me. For a movie with a run time of 2 hours, it feels like they cut out a lot of important character moments that would have made the movie a lot better. Don’t get me wrong, Warcraft is quite possibly the best video game-based movie since Mortal Kombat, but the whole thing reeks of studio interference. I’m expecting an extended cut of the film to hit home video in September/October. I really do hope a sequel gets made, because there’s a LOT of potential here, especially if Duncan Jones comes back. He’s the reason the movie didn’t flat out suck, I think.

    • You hint at something that has me thinking. If they had allowed another 20 minutes I really think some of the characters could have been fleshed out a bit more. More time could have been given and I think the movie would have been stronger.

      • For a fantasy movie, a three hour run time really shouldn’t bother a lot of people. Look at Lord of the Rings. I know comparing Warcraft to LOTR is kind of silly, but the more run time the movie has, the more room it has to breathe and get everything out. Now, a three-hour video game movie would definitely put people on edge, I understand, but this is the kind of video-game movie that would work with a longer run time.

  2. I like you even more after you referenced Krull! I liked the sincerity of this film. It took its storyline seriously and made a real attempt at building the world. And I agree Toby Kebbel is the best thing about it. He never disappoints.

  3. I’m going to wait for it when it comes on TV. Besides, I like Duncan Jones’ work as a filmmaker and await for his next one which I heard is a smaller yet more interesting film. Plus, I don’t want to rush to the theaters and end up not liking it as I wanna give the guy a break. He just his dad. We love his dad.

  4. That’s a surprisingly good review! I thought it was decent considering what he was working with, but Duncan Jones should be doing much more interesting movies. After Moon and Source Code I think he should stick to the middle-budget cerebral sleeper hits. But I guess it’s hard to stay as consistently awesome as his father!

    Ethan Colburn, Cineflek
    http://www.cineflek.com

  5. Interesting read. It got some OK/good notices over here before all those negative reviews in the US, as it was released a week earlier. I was surprised by the level of vitriol sent its way, but I haven’t seen it yet, so can’t really comment any further. I hope to catch it in the next week or so while it’s still around.

  6. That’s a very positive review Keith. Personally I wasn’t engaged at all by it and never felt an emotional connection to it. In my review I did state that I thought if this movie had been half an hour longer it might have been better as it would have allowed to give the characters more background/depth.

    • You’re the second reader to mention that and I 100% agree. Great observation. I look forward to checking out your full thoughts on it.

  7. Even though I had no intentions of seeing it, I’m kind of bummed critics are ripping it apart just because I love Duncan Jones and wanted him to succeed. I also know a lot of people who loved WoW, so I figured it would’ve had a massive audience going in.

  8. We have different opinions on this one and while I think you make valid points in favor of the movie, I really could not get into it. The messiness of it all just didnt sit well with me and most of the time I was just really bored. Glad you had a better time with i.

    • And I understand. I do think it comes down to whether or not the movie is able to connect with you enough so that you can overlook it’s faults.

  9. Fantastic review, Keith! So glad to see you enjoyed it so much. I was going to see this with my hubby, but he ended up going with a friend. He played WoW for years, so he was obviously interested, and he enjoyed it. I am looking forward to a DVD/Blu-Ray release so that I, too, can catch up. I am interested to see how they Warcraft lore is brought to the screen, because in the games it is fascinating.

      • Yeah, he quite liked it, thought it looked cool and all that, though he said there were some issues. He’s interested to see where they take it, so they got that right at least xD Glad he liked it, looking forward to catching it eventually, too.

  10. I still haven’t had the chance to see this yet but I will do very soon! I’m a long term World of Warcraft player but never played Warcraft itself, so this is semi-new territory for me. It’s a shame the critics are bashing it so hard, but I can’t say I’m surprised!
    – Allie

    • You’re right. Not surprising. It is a shame though. It has flaws but it is a lot of fun and it lays the groundwork for a solid franchise. Hopefully the good reception overseas will help us to get another film.

  11. I felt pretty much the same Keith. I didn’t have much knowledge of the video game, so came from that point of view and found myself engaged in the characters. Totally agree about Ben Foster though he was such a strange choice! Glad to read a positive review!

    • And I’m just as glad to hear a positive response! 😉 I really think don’t think this film deserves the drumming it has received. Sure it has some flaws, but I found it to be a really fun time. Do you think we will ever get that sequel?

      • I think the only hope lies in the overseas numbers. The US audience didn’t come out but the numbers in other territories have been good. It was a sensation in China. Hopefully those numbers are enough to get us a sequel. But I don’t know.

  12. Dude, I thought of this post as I composed my King Arthur: Legend of the Sword thoughts. That is another movie that is getting more hate than it deserves. I actually think it is a fun epic summer fantasy, not without its problems, but still predominately fun.

    • Really? I’m glad to hear that. I may just give it a chance then. I recently bought Warcraft on blu-ray. I’m actually anxious to see it again.

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