For the Horde! (Warcraft Movie Review)

Warcraft MovieWarcraft (released as Warcraft: The Beginning in Europe) is this year’s third big video-game movie and the second I got to see in my local theatres. This is only the second time that high fantasy has been the topic of a video-game movie adaption, the first being the surprisingly decent Uwe Boll feature In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. While Warcraft has a lot of good elements it then maybe fails to stand on its own two feet as a film.

The film’s plot concerns an Orc army traversing between dimensions to conquer a world called Azeroth in order to claim it as a new home world. They’re opposed by humans and led by a sorcerer orc called Guldan who uses a dark magic called Fel which corrupts Orcs. One Orc chieftain called Durotan begins to doubt the sorcerer. Meanwhile, the human king’s brother-in-law, Lothar, asks the help of a wizard “Guardian” called Medivh and rescues an orc half-breed called Garona in an effort to find a way to stop the Orc assaults.

As a point of added interest, we see returning video-game film alumni with Dominic Cooper (Need for Speed) as King Llane and Toby Kemmel (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) as the Orc Durotan.

Let’s start with the positives of this adaption. The thing I liked most about the film was how it depicted the Orc society. Film audiences are probably used to Orcs being the dime-a-dozen monstrous characters in fantasy films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, but here they are characters with a multitude of motives. Durotan and the comely half-breed Orc Garona were two of my favourite characters, as Durotan is concerned more with the survival of the Orc race than simple conquest. In addition, his loving relationship with his wife Draka (Anna Galvin) was excellent and I loved every scene with these two characters in them. Garona was played excellently by Paula Patton, and her character eventually proves to be way more than proverbial eye candy.

Medivh (Ben Foster), who initially comes off as a type of wizard Jesus, proves to be a far more complicated character as the movie goes on. Conversely, Guldan seems to be a more typical nefarious dictator for the sake of giving the film a strong lead villain – but he is at least a very opposing character. The movie has beautiful cinematography and the special effects on the Orcs, the cities, fantasy creatures and the spells of the wizards look fantastic. I have to say Medivh, Guldan and the bumbling Khadgar’s colourful spell effects had me in a state of giddiness I haven’t felt in a fantasy film since the Harry Potter series. There’s of course occasional camera shaking in the action-scenes, but not too bad.

However, once we get to the film’s weak points, I’m probably going to sound like a broken record for complaining about this yet again (as I have with Batman v. Superman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even Terminator: Genisys) but the film’s pacing was by far its biggest weakness. Especially during the first 30-40 minutes, the pacing was just maddeningly rushed. During the humans’ story, characters keep speeding off to new locations in every scene on horse-back, griffon-back or by magical teleportations for reasons the audience is forced to simply guess at. As a result of this rushed pace, coupled with the fact that the film doesn’t stop to explain anything in its story for a really long time (really not until the scene where Lothar, Khadgar and Garona stop to talk about the painfulness of Orc sex) means that it took me a really long-time to start caring about the human characters. Lothar was the most compelling by far, but for the first half of the film, all he does is stand around and look serious.

The film’s opening really has two separate problems. On one hand, the film seems to expect the audience to know and care about Warcraft lore and lines like “I have forsaken my vows” are spouted out by characters as if they mean anything and yet the film doesn’t seem to want to stop and take a breath in the fear of boring the audience with story detail. This also leads to even more questions like: Why are we introduced to the king of the humans in a dinky little inn? Why is everyone in such a god damn hurry and if so many characters needed to be in the same place for the story to progress, why didn’t the screenwriters take any of this into account with the movie’s frustrating geography? Why does Medivh need to return to his tower so many times? Why doesn’t Guldan kill all the dissenter orcs indiscriminately towards the film’s end the same way he did earlier in the film? Why are these humans, elves and dwarves arguing at a meeting? Why is there a meeting at all?

I know this seems to be a huge hiccup for big summer blockbusters – but honestly, the scenes in films that are usually the most interesting for me are the ones where characters just sit down and talk, because you usually get a much better feeling for who the characters are this way. I was also surprised and maybe a little disappointed about the lack of action scenes. Khadgar was a disappointingly under-developed character. In a similar vein, the dwarves, mages and elves were all left at the sidelines and the film never bothered to explain why any of them really even mattered to the story. Here’s a thing where the film honestly could have taken a note from both the LOTR and even The Hobbit trilogy in how to gradually introduce lore into a film in a way that isn’t completely overwhelming and way more easier for the audience to take in.

By far the thing that annoyed me the most though was that the movie seemed less like its own complete whole and more of just a build-up to an eventual Warcraft 2. So many character threads are left unresolved and so many back doors are left open that there’s a veritable draft of “this will be important in the sequel” that completely undermines pretty much every character arc. In short, there’s an annoying lack of finality to anything that happens in the film (spoiler: with the possible exception of Medivh’s death). I’m honestly confounded how Uwe Boll managed to top this movie in story-telling coherence in his own 2 hour fantasy film with multiple protagonists.

In all, Warcraft is a perfectly serviceable fantasy piece but one that’s really hard to get into. However, if you can grin and bear past the positively incoherent opening, the last two-thirds of the movie are actually quite enjoyable and well-made. Perhaps the sequel can improve notably on the first movie’s short-comings…

Score: 3 out of 5

  • +1 The Orcs – Particularly Durotan and Guldan.
  • +1 Medivh’s story arc
  • +½ Lothar and Garona’s stories.
  • +½ The special effects and cinematography.
  • -1 Khadgar and pretty much every supporting character.
  • -1 The opening of the film is really rushed and hard to follow.