Lok'tar Ogar: 'Warcraft' Review
Full disclosure: I had played about 100 plus hours of World of Warcraft and beat Warcraft 3 back when it first came out. However, that being said, I honestly have very little to no understanding of the complex lore of the franchise. So, going into Warcraft, I had no idea what to expect, but early reviews were overwhelmingly negative. In a year where early critic reactions have driven some fervent fans to lash out, I was waiting for a cinematic failure on the level of Batman v Superman. Thankfully, Blizzard's first foray into feature films does not crash on burn near the levels that DC's reboot did.
The film follows two opposing forces, the Horde, and Alliance, as they try to take control of Azeroth. The Horde side of the movie follows the orc Durotan, voiced by Toby Kebbel, as he attempts to protect his family after entering Azeroth through a portal created by the fel-wielding sorcerer Gul'dan. The Alliance side of the film follows human Lothar, played by Vikings Travis Fimmel, as he works with King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and wizard Medivh (Ben Foster) to secure the safety of their realm from the invading Horde. Added into the mix are a half-human, half-orc Garona (Paula Patton), an aspiring wizard Khadgar, and a mysterious priestess in black. The plot is at times confusing since it feels as if a prior knowledge of the source material would help explain some of the characters easier.
The performances in the film range from nuanced to over the top. Kebbel, who was previously horribly miscast in the flop Fant4stic as Doom, brings real emotion and heart to the orc chieftain. His internal struggle and yearning to protect his newborn son and wife are more successful than the actual human motivations of the Alliance. You sympathize with his plight on a more emotional level than one might expect from a giant CGI creature. It is the first time since Gollum in The Lord of the Rings that a full-CGI performance has overshadowed the live performances of the co-stars. Fimmel as Lothar has glimmers of complexity but ultimately is saddled with a generic hero's journey that leaves more to be desired and expected from potential sequels.
Garona and Medivh make-up the problematic performances in the film, unfortunately. Getting past the laughably out of place make-up job on the lovely Patton, there is never truly a sense of what drives her character. Her character arc feels so jumbled that the outcome of her choices towards the end of the film seem out of place and rushed. Like Lothar, it appears that she is being setup for bigger things in perspective sequels but feels like an afterthought here. Medivh, however, is given such a large role in the film that his presence becomes a little overwhelming towards the conclusion. Foster has come a long way as a serious actor since X-Men: The Last Stand but his acting talents get squandered for campy lines and little characterization. Most of the time he is either whispering about ancient evil or screaming unintelligible incantations while CGI flashes around him. It is jarring and an ultimate waste of Foster's superb abilities.
Duncan Jones is not known for his direction of action sequences which is surprising since the set-pieces in the film are on par with Peter Jackson's direction in LOTR. The large scale battles feel epic with swarms of orcs and humans cutting one another down to size. Jones takes advantage of the budget and makes the film feel like two worlds colliding which gives the scenes towards the end real weight. The smaller scale battles work as well especially a fight in the woods between Lothar and an orc scouting party. It is refreshing to see well-shot action scenes in a year that has had massive disappointments when it comes to on-screen fighting.
The real issue with the film is that the story is just too reliant on the source material. Even with a basic knowledge of the mythos, I still found myself delving into the lore to understand some of the characters clearer. It is reminiscent of the first Hunger Games film where a lantern got hung on many of the most complex aspects instead of flashy action. It was hard to invest in any of the Alliance storyline due in part to the lack of explanation as to how characters got to where they are. It is an origin story for an entire cinematic universe as opposed just to a singular character a la Marvel. It does not hurt the film as much as it could have thanks in part to there being interesting characters and exciting set-pieces.
Warcraft is an interesting if flawed starting point for the cinematic world of Blizzard's most successful gaming franchise. It oscillates wildly between being genuine character development and exciting action to campy performances and the dreaded exposition dump. It also refreshingly takes some chances with characters that seems to be unheard in large budget Hollywood films of late. Ultimately, should future sequels come to fruition, the world created in the movie should be an interesting and exciting stage for some epic stories to come.