When watching a movie like Warcraft, one can’t help but compare it to the best fantasy films that have come before. Lord of the Rings is the natural standard bearer when it comes to great fantasy movies, but it really is unfair to compare the two. Lord of the Rings, while taking place in a fantasy world with different races and warring factions, is very much a grounded world, with practical armor, mostly human-shaped characters, and very scarce magic. Warcraft is absolutely not that, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing.
On the one hand, I really enjoyed how different other races were from humans. They weren’t simply people in make up or filmed differently to create the illusion of size. Instead, these other races were so radically different in physicality and shape, that it became necessary for computer animation to step in to bring them to life. I know I’ve railed against unnecessary computer animated characters before (see The Hobbit), but here it felt more natural as even characters such as the dwarves were different enough from humans to warrant being CG effects.
Additionally, I appreciate high fantasy worlds where one feels immersed in a place that is so different from our own that it feels alien. I believe this is why people were so enthralled by Avatar several years ago. Audiences felt like they were being transported to a different, magical world. This is what Warcraft is attempting to do, with varying degrees of success. Good or bad, I applaud the effort. Perhaps if the orcs were instead giant pretty blue cat people that audiences want to have sex with, then more people would be inclined to see it, I don’t know.
Either way, you did feel as though you weren’t anyplace familiar, and I was excited by that.
However, some of the elements became too fantastic for the narrative. I think that this movie would have been served well by having an audience surrogate, which this movie didn’t really have. Avatar had Jake Sully, here we have…well, no one. We needed a character who would ask questions about locations and people, give weird looks at things that seem strange, and generally make the audience feel ok with being confused and estranged from the world. Instead, we have characters rushing around, talking about things in their world like The Guardian and the Fel and the floating city of Dalaran as though it’s no big deal. And it is no big deal for them, sure, but for us? For Joe Everybody? It’s weird, alienating, and confusing. It would have been a great idea to have someone wondering why those characters’ eyes are glowing, where one would get a griffon, or why the humans don’t fucking use bows and arrows? I thought Garona the half-orc, played by Paula Patton, would be that, but she just sort of takes everything in stride for the most part. I used to play Warcraft II & III, so I was at least a little familiar with the world, but even I felt more than a little lost some of the time. I can’t imagine your average film-goer fared any better.
There also seemed to be some editing and pacing problems. Characters would jump from location to location like it were nothing (and for a couple characters it really is nothing. Poof! They’re somewhere else!), a certain love subplot felt all but unearned, and, again, things were not fleshed out enough in the world to feel like a complete movie. At one point during a fight, a character’s wardrobe changed significantly without any explanation. I had paid some attention, so I surmised that his armor had been crushed so he discarded it off-screen, but in the film, it’s just an abrupt difference. Felt sloppy. I read somewhere that there’s a ton of stuff they cut from the film, which makes me hopeful that there’s a director’s cut coming, but in an ideal world we wouldn’t need director’s cuts. In an ideal world, the director, Duncan Jones in this case, would have a vision, execute it, and that would be the best possible story that the film could tell. I sort of feel that if you need a director’s cut then an inferior product has been put out.
But that’s not to say that the movie is bad. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The performances were all quality, especially given some of the strange dialogue that the actors had to say sometimes (Not that the dialogue was bad, just all the fantastic names and elements put together in a sentence has to be awkward to say). My favorite character was even a computer generated one, Durotan, played by Toby Kebbell. He gave a great performance, portraying a character trying to make peace with an enemy in order to save his people. He was definitely the best part of the movie and I was always glued to the screen when he had scenes. It’s ironic, because the orcish scenes were, to me, consistently better than the human ones. Travis Fimmel did a fine job and Ben Foster wasn’t bad given the material, but none of it grabbed me. It’s possible that the green-screen felt unnatural with human actors while the orcs blended better, but really I think the orc story was just more compelling.
The action in the film was also riveting. You really felt that the humans were punching above their weight, and when the orcs laid into some footmen, you could practically feel the bones break. They really made you understand that the humans were in dire straights and wonder how in the world they could turn it around and save themselves. Of course, once the heroes of the film get involved, the humans start doing better, but even then you still feel the heft of each hit from the orcs. It was exciting stuff.
I do have to say, though, and this is SPOILER-ish, that I saw the death of one character coming as soon as they were introduced. If you watch the film, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking. This character just screams “tragic death.” It was almost annoying how I immediately knew their fate. But I digress.
All in all, Warcraft was a fun action fantasy movie. You have to be prepared to be a little confused if you’re not a regular player of the games, but once you accept the world and get over things not being explained completely, it’s an enjoyable time. Who doesn’t like orcs and wizards and golems? I mean, probably a lot of people… But if you do like them or the idea of them, then this movie would be a good fit for you! Check it out!
Now, I wonder if pandas are going to show up in the sequel…