Warcraft as reviewed by someone who didn’t play the games.
Turns out, I know people(tm).
At least, I know a guy who, every now and again, can get me passes to see sneak previews of various movies. Not quite a press pass, but hey, it’ll do. And it’s perfect for a flick like Warcraft, which I was somewhat curious about … and at the same time, not intrigued enough to actually, y’know, spend money on.
I never really got into the various Warcraft video games. First ’cause I was terrible at RTS games, and then later, I found myself opposed to a game with a monthly subscription fee as a matter of principle. That, and I’d seen what playing too much of the game could do. Heck, I remember a time senior year of college in which my roomate had a rather attractive lady over … at which point she sat on the couch and watched him level his troll hunter for like two hours. Then again, if this had been a reoccuring thing, perhaps it might’ve inspired me to play the game myself. “Hey baby. Lemme tell you about my character.”
Video game movies are an odd genre– a young one, that hasn’t had the chance to really establish itself in the way that, say, Superhero movies have. It doesn’t help that most video game movies have been misses rather than hits (even if I found the first Resident Evil to be pretty solid). And so, it’s pretty ballsy for Blizzard to branch out into the movie side of things. Ballsy, but also necessary, considering they don’t have the MMO market nearly as cornered as they once did. There’s a contrived analogy to be made here about how Blizzard’s seeking a new, fresher world, just like their Orcs do in the movie, but I digress.
So yeah. Warcraft is a big, sprawling fantasy epic, centering around the conflict between orcs (who mostly look like Hulk-clones with boar tusks and dreadlocks) and men (who are, uh … dudes in armor). With their world dying, an Eeeeeeevil Orc Wizard Dude uses Dark Sorcery to open a gate to New Zealand– err, to Azeroth. Naturally, the knighty dudes in Azeroth aren’t too thrilled with this, so lots of swordfights ensue.
Visually, Warcraft fires on all cylinders. Pretty much everything is CGI, but it’s done well enough, with a consistent enough style, that it’s not too terribly distracting. Things are a little bit cartoony, which is pretty much an exact fit to the style of the Warcraft video games. However, with so many sprawling vistas and magical castles, the movie loses some of its sense of scale- if EVERYTHING is impressive, then that’s the norm. I’m sure a lot of these places hold meaning for people well versed in Warcraft lore, but for me, I was like ‘eh.’ Characters zip about between landmarks so quickly that they all kind of blend together.
However, that brings up another somewhat interesting point, in that this is the highest fantasy movie I’ve seen … possibly ever. Seriously, even as the movie starts, characters are zinging around glowy magic and riding griffons like an everyday thing. It’s actually a pretty interesting take on the genre– there’s no ‘viewpoint’ character to bumble along and have stuff explained to. The closest is a pasty-nerd wizard character who’s probably closest to the average WoW player, but he actually knows what he’s talking about for the most part.
Warcraft does some actual interesting things with its plot. For one, the orcs aren’t just a slavering horde of monsters. Rather, they have a legit reason for invading Not-New Zealand (even if it may all be a scheme by the Evil Wizard Orc). The movie even goes out of its way to portray the central orc characters sympathetically– honestly, I found myself wanting to watch a movie about them rather than the generic fantasy human folks. On top of that, Warcraft has some novel ideas, such as working in some business about First Contact and diplomacy into what could otherwise be a generic fantasy movie. Although a lot of the diplomacy plot centers around a half-orc woman whose name I forgot, so I just wound up referring to her as Not-Gamora (I mean, she’s green and stabby). I soon wound up cringing whenever Not-Gamora was on screen, as her character arc pretty much boiled down to her doing whatever other characters told her to do as she crossed sides a couple of times. Oh, and she has a shoehorned in romance subplot with beardy knight guy, because of COURSE she does.
The biggest departure Warcraft has from the standard summer blockbuster, however, is the fact that it’s a tragedy– or, well, it WANTS to be a tragedy, at least. There’s betrayal and intrigue and such, and several main characters die by the movie’s over. And, y’know, the movie also ends with orcs and men apparently doomed to fight each other for an endless war, so that’s a thing too. The problem is … this grand, operatic storytelling really doesn’t match the cartoonish aesthetic. It’s hard to add emotional weight to a scene when all the characters are wearing ENORMOUS SHOULDERPADS. The obviously fiberglassy weapons and armor didn’t help much, either. Then again, I watched a Lord of The Rings marathon off and on over the weekend, which had swords that … actually looked like swords. Go fig.
So yeah. Warcraft desperately wants to be the foundation to a new movie franchise. I’m not sure if it’ll have enough broad appeal to pull it off. I mean, the tragic plot is kind of like if you started Star Wars with Revenge of the Sith. And honestly, the plot starts looking a bit rickety and contrived to get to its tragic ending … which, well, given how often most other movies have rickety and contrived happy endings, I guess I can give it a pass.
While Warcraft does a decent job of introducing their world to someone who hasn’t played the video games, I can easily see a lot of people getting scared away by the video game background. Then again, Warcraft might make a bajillion dollars in China. Still, as it is, I kind of see this movie falling into the same ‘fancy CGI fiasco’ category as the fantasy equivalent to Jupiter Ascending.
Take that as you will.