This review contains spoilers.
This weekend I went out to watch the newest video game franchise turned CGI-filled movie franchise, Warcraft, and you know what? I really enjoyed it. The movie has garnered negative reviews from many critics, but audience reactions have been much more positive, and though the film did poorly in the domestic box office this weekend, it had record breaking sales in the biggest film market in the world, China. So why such a disparity? Well, let’s break it down.
Warcraft focuses on two warriors who want nothing more than to protect their people. Durotan is an Orc chieftain, who comes to Azeroth with other Orc tribes under the leadership of the Orc shaman Gul’dan. Lothar is the human commander of the armies of Azeroth, who, with the leadership of King Llane and Medivh, the Guardian of Azeroth, seeks to protect their peaceful land from the invading Orc raids.
The movie had many good points, and some admittedly not so good points, but I’ll begin with the good.
Both the humans and the Orcs are presented with empathy and depth of purpose, so the film resists falling into the typical man vs. monster trope. In fact, I would argue that Durotan is the most empathetic, heroic character in the film, thanks in part to a great motion capture performance by Toby Kebbell. He follows Gul’dan to the new world, but he doesn’t trust Gul’dan’s magic, which comes from a force called The Fell that requires the sacrifice of life to fuel it. Durotan doesn’t allow Gul’dan to infect his people with The Fell, even though it has been used to make most other Orcs stronger and greener. Durotan’s standing up to his own leader and ultimately sacrificing himself to show the rest of his people the evils of The Fell are what really cement him as the hero of the movie. Additionally, his relationship with his wife and newborn son, whose life is saved by The Fell, is beautiful and heartbreaking. His wife is also a boss.
Another Orc character that has a great character arc is Garona, a half-Orc, half-human woman who was being held prisoner by the Orcs before Durotan freed her and then was captured by Lothar’s forces. Garona went from a scared and confused prisoner to a heroine who makes a painful choice to achieve peace between the Orcs and humans. The entire ending sequence was pretty amazing, highlighting the sacrifices made by several of the main characters in the name of peace.
The relationships between the characters were what really gave Warcraft’s other warrior his heart. Lothar’s strained relationship with his son isn’t all that prominent, but the loss is sure to shape Lothar in the future. The friendship between Lothar, Medivh and King Llane gives the story yet another dose of tragedy–one friend consumed by power, the other a noble sacrifice for his people, and Lothar left to pick up the pieces. Garona’s connection with Lothar binds the futures of the Orcs and humans, as well.
Finally, the best thing to come out of this movie are the brutal and awesome battle scenes. The Orcs smash human soldiers with such ease and brutality, and Medivh and Khadgar’s magic looks super cool. Though not all of the story was battle focused, the battle scenes were very well crafted and absolutely fun to watch. They definitely evoke a Lord of the Rings vibe, though on a much smaller scale. The CGI effects allowed the Orcs to look amazingly realistic both in low key, dialogue heavy sequences and during the battles as well. Some of the background effects were less than perfect, but the attention to detail on the Orcs was very impressive and helped to make them realistic, empathetic characters.
Although I really enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t a perfect film. The story took a while to pick up, starting out with too much heavy exposition and not enough character. As much as I liked the characters by the end of the film, they weren’t very deeply explored–probably because there were a lot of them to introduce and a lot of world building to be done. It definitely could have done with a stronger script, stronger character development, and a little more explanation of some of the intricacies of the Warcraft world for non-players (like me), though most everything made sense eventually. Probably the thing that would have benefited most from more explanation is Medivh’s role as the Guardian, which would have made his betrayal and connection to The Fell a more powerful twist. The world of the mages could have used a lot more attention in general–I wasn’t really sure what was going on with Khadgar most of the time, too.
Overall, Warcraft plays sort of like a big prequel to what could be to come, providing a solid origin story for Lothar, Khadgar, Garona, and Durotan’s son. Though the immediate plot was resolved, many things are left open ended: Gul’dan is still around, the origins and nature of The Fell is not explained at all, Azeroth is left without a Guardian, and there’s no telling what’s in store for Durotan’s son. With the amount of money being made in China, I assume a sequel will be coming down the pipes in the years ahead. In fact, I’m really hoping for it. It may not be the best movie of the summer, but it’s definitely worth a watch for players and non-players alike.