It’s hard to deny that video game based movies haven’t exactly been the cornerstone of anything resembling quality film making over the past two decades. Often this is due to poor execution, the wrong people at the helm, or simple lack of understanding towards a property. Because of this, every new attempt to finally make a good movie based on a game carries the pressure and hope of finally being “the good one”. And while Warcraft isn’t without some significant problems, its many innovations and strengths certainly make a great first impression.
While many will look to fantasy classics such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring’s trilogy, Warcraft is actually better compared with Avatar, as both films rely on similar strengths. As the worlds of Orc and Human collide into all-out war, what could have been a simple tale of men versus monsters is instead turned into an impartial look at war, placing heroes and villains on both sides. The film wisely opens on the less relatable Orc characters, giving us time to understand their viewpoint, and see how similar they really are to their human adversaries.
Greatly helping realize the Orcs are the films stunning effects. While more of an evolution on prior technological advances, the amount of detail that can be found on each Orc, Gryphon and other fantasy beast is almost photo-realistic in detail. Equally impressive are the designs of the two distinctly different sides, staying surprisingly faithful to the original game’s designs, while making adjustments to fit better on film. The Orcs, in particular, cover themselves in the bones of their enemies, leading to plenty of unique detailing to notice on even the most basic background character. The facial animations also play a huge role in making the films more dramatic Orc moments work, capturing the most subtle movements of an actors face in order to give a more nuanced performance.
Speaking of performances, much of the film’s biggest moments rest on the strength of Toby Kebbel’s Durotan and Travis Fimmel’s Anduin, and they manage to compliment each other well as leads. Durotan is given a sense of duty to his family and people that sets him apart from how we typically look at Orcs, while still possessing the savagery of a brutal war chief that is a distinctly Orcish quality. Anduin, on the other hand, is given much of the film’s comedic moments, giving him some personality while still portraying him as a proud warrior. Supporting characters vary in performance levels, with the highlights being Daniel Wu as main antagonist Gul’Dan, as well as Robert Kazinsky and Clancy Brown as the Orc’s Doomhamer and Blackhand, respectively. When focusing on these characters, who clearly have an understanding of the material and the tone its going for, the film manages to deliver a world filled with more complex characters then we are accustomed to in fantasy films.
Perhaps the biggest strength that Warcraft should be commended for above all else is how far Director Duncan Jones is willing to take what would otherwise be a simple story of good and evil sides. Throughout the film, the plot throws in a number of surprising, yet natural, twists and major character deaths that allow the stakes to feel that much more real, grounding the otherwise over the top nature of the film. The writers clearly wanted to show how war is never as simple as “good” and “bad”, ending the film on an uncertain future, and leaving the door open for a number of possible plots for the film’s inevitable sequel. More importantly, the steps that have been taken to make the interplay between the many well-developed characters make you want to come back to not just the beautifully created world, but the people inhabiting it as well, which is a feat that not many blockbusters get to say.
While the plot does manage to take a lot of risks, this sometimes come at a cost. While there is a clearly defined goal in the beginning of the film, its in the opening of the third act that the focus becomes somewhat muddled. While the writers tried to leave enough room in the film to both finish this films arc, as well as set up several things for potential sequels, it sometimes feels like too much. likewise, while the many deaths of main characters is a welcome change of pace to Summer films that feel like they have no stakes, one character’s death may blindside audiences, due to the amount of focus the character gets in the film leading up to said moment. Likewise, the exposition-heavy dialogue that periodically appears in the film is likely to confuse, or otherwise distract, audiences not already familiar with the source material.
Additionally, for all the strong performances the film leads with, the supporting cast can be less then stellar, with most problems coming from the live-action characters. Paula Patton plays a strong female Orc in Garona, but her performance is unfortunately hindered by fake teeth that cause her performance to feel off. Likewise, Dominic cooper sleepwalks through his role as King Wrynn, delivering orders and commands with the same blank, expressionless face that fails to draw you into his character. And, although Ben Foster manages to deliver a fair performance as the mage Medivh, his performance becomes somewhat stilted during the second half, which also uses his character as a vehicle for the aforementioned sequel possibilities.
Yes, Warcraft is not the grand savior of Video-Game based films that some people are still desperately hoping for. But on its own merits, the film manages to be smarter then the average summer blockbuster, while delivering on all the action and effects that audiences are looking for around this time of year. More then any other film trying to become a franchise that we’ve had in recent years, however, Warcraft delivers a world I want to come back to, thanks to the complexity of its characters in the face of what could have just been another traditional fantasy conflict. Sometimes, the richness of characters and the quality of its action are enough to recommend a film to those who may not be immediately interested, and Warcraft is certainly worth a second look for anyone who goes to a summer blockbuster knowing what they want, but hoping for a little extra as well.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 7.5 Extravagantly Named Supporting Characters out of 10