Few video game properties come to the table with a such a dense lore and mythos as Warcraft. I never really played the original real-time strategy Warcraft games, but I did put about two years worth of time into World of Warcraft, even grinding two characters to the level cap of 90 at the time. During those two years of play, what I enjoyed most was the exploration aspect. Every time my character entered a new zone it was exciting to see what monsters lay in wait, what treasures there were to find, and it was always great to spend time seeing all the beautiful design put into the world. The film Warcraft was announced ten years ago but has languished in development until the last couple years. After a decade of development, what did we end up with?
Warcraft, directed by Duncan Jones, tells the stories of the war between the human and the orcs of Azeroth. As a result of a demonic plague, the orcs construct a portal that brings them to the world of Azeroth. Souls are needed to open the portal again and bring the orcs who stayed behind. The humans immediately want to drive the orcs back and thus the war begins. The cast is filled with many confusingly similar bearded men and some beautiful animated motion capture orcs. Also, Paula Patton is a half-orc with some very distracting tusk prosthetic.
Warcraft is an utter mess of a film. This rests entirely on the screenplay which failed in something that should have been easy. The IP has thousands of years of established lore and they picked a very meaty chunk of that history. The only work the screenplay had to do was character development and it completely fails. Instead, the film is constantly jumping from location to location never allowing us to really get to know or care about the characters. The dialogue is also painfully cliched. As a knight is leaving a curious mage behind in a mystical library he turns around to utter, “And while I’m gone…try not to touch anything” followed by the mage causing a minor accident. None of the dialogue differentiates the characters or gives you a sense of who they are.
The look of Warcraft also always been exaggerated and cartoonish. This does not translate well into live action. The entire look of the Alliance armor and much of the architecture is cringeworthy. The orcs look wonderful, though. The cgi used for the other side of the film’s war is exceptional and the facial expression that comes through is quite an achievement. The orcs are also far and away the most interesting part of the film and we do not spend enough time with them. It’s essentially a 60/40 split in my opinion between humans and orcs.
For viewers unfamiliar with the world of these games, I can only imagine what a confusing, mind boggling film this must be. I have a passing familiarity with many of the characters and bits of history so I was able to feel my way through events in the film, but even I had moments of confusion about who was who. There’s an emphasis put on the importance of Durotan’s newborn orc son which will play strangely to newcomers. Easter eggs abound for the fans, which is no surprise, but when the core of your narrative is near impenetrable to people who have never played the game you have problems. Sadly, if the acting had been more over the top, a la the Dungeons & Dragons film, Warcraft might be a fun “bad” movie, but everyone is so dull and uninteresting. And worst, it’s almost as hard to tell the litany of bearded white men apart as it is the orcs.
Duncan Jones is not a bad director. His debut feature, Moon, is one of the best independent films of the last decade. His mainstream follow up was Source Code, not a terrible film but fairly forgettable. He is thankfully returning to his roots with Mute, which he calls a follow up to Moon. What he presents us with in Warcraft is very confounding. The only conclusion a viewer could come to is that Jones struggled to bring his own stamp to the film, and it was inevitably overtaken by studio notes and the marketing department. What we’re left with is a film that so desperately wants to be the start of a new franchise but doesn’t have a hook to bring in the audience you need to do that. The film is doing amazingly well in China so there may actually be more. Let’s hope they put character first and use those individual, interesting personalities to help us care about the lore, not the other way round.