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.
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.
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.
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