The Gamble of Adapting ‘Warcraft’
Warcraft is a film that I was rooting for going in, and so desperately wanted to love. Whether it be its devotion to its source material or its commitment to nerdy fantasy principles, you want movies like this to be good. Especially in the face of most other video game movies being disasters, how does Warcraft hold up? Well, fans of the games will find a devotion to appreciate, but for the uninitiated this one doesn’t quite land.
Based on Blizzard’s wildly successful Warcraft series (which later leads to the cultural phenomenon of World of Warcraft), Warcraft adapts the story of how humans and orcs first came into conflict. Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and written by Charles Leavitt and Jones, the film has a lot of creative spark behind it, whether or not the spark plays out in the finished film is a different question. For Jones, this marked his first foray into blockbuster filmmaking after making two smaller, more personal, films. There are times where his smart directorial touch can be seen, but most of the time the magnitude of the production overwhelms the senses.
The filmmakers made a great choice to tell the story from both sides of the conflict. Though I’m aware the video game series has always allowed players to take control of characters from either faction, it could have been easy for the film to play out like a Lord of the Rings retread, where humans are good and orcs are monsters that are evil because – reasons. This film is a mixed bag, for every good thing I can mention, two more elements disappoint. So while we can applaud the film for opting to tell a deeper story than just humans-fight-evil-orcs, the overall product still leaves much to be desired as a cohesive film.
On one side, you have the humans. Lothar (Travis Fimmel), Medivh (Ben Foster), Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) and others make up the characters of the Alliance side, and simply put, there is nothing to get invested in here. Just as it is a chore to read through each of the characters’ names, so the movie drudges through each of the scenes dealing with humans. Maybe a character has a family member they care about, maybe they are trying to defend their honor, most of the time the human side just wants to protect their land from the monsters. That’s it, there is nothing more to get invested in with the humans’ side.
The Orcs Are Much More Interesting
On the other (much more interesting) side, you have the orcs. Though they have just as many characters as the humans (there are just too many characters for a single two hour movie), the protagonist of the orcs is Durotan (Toby Kebbel), and this character is the best aspect of the film. Durotan is actually given some scenes to establish his character. He is seen connecting with his wife, caring for his newborn son, and showing the emotion behind being a leader of a clan. His character is torn between the two worlds, and his inner-conflict is a shining example of the potential Warcraft has. On top of all that, the motion-capture work is phenomenal and Durotan looks amazing.
So while the human-vs-orc conflict lays the foundation for story and emotion (read: not a firm foundation), at least there are some good battle scenes, right? Though the closeups on the orcs are extremely well rendered, anytime the camera zooms out for a fight, the quality of CGI drops drastically. This was always going to be a tough sell: how can you do practical fights when half of the characters are monstrous orcs?
Due to the nature of CGI, the majority of fight scenes feel weightless, yes these are huge characters destroying each other, but it always feels more cartoonish than scary. For better or worse, each battle scene plays out like a well-produced video game cutscene.
After talking with others, I believe the film will work for you if you already have a connection to the Warcraft universe. You can bring in the emotional heft found in the games and insert it into the movie; unfortunately the movie doesn’t take the time to lay the emotional groundwork for you. The majority of dialogue scenes consist of heavy explanation, everyone has to explain who they are, what they are doing, and what is happening in the world.
Even with all this exposition, all the characters and clans and backstory is still hard to follow for the uninitiated. You can tell where the film wants to continue on to more of the orc-vs-human conflict, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this universe. While there is promise in future installments, right now we just have the singular film Warcraft, and as is, it does not hold up on its on.