‘Warcraft’ Review | Fel Comes to Mogtown
Calling a film like Warcraft “the best video game movie ever made” might be damning it with faint praise, but faint praise is something that this film deserves. Duncan Jones’s ambitious, colorful foray into the mythology of Azeroth is a noble effort but not the sort of thing that will make you forget about The Lord of the Rings. If anything, it will actively remind you of Willow.
But you know what? I have a lot of fondness for Willow, and for Dragonslayer, and for The Sword and the Sorcerer, and for lot of other fantasy movies that deserved a solid three stars. Warcraft may have aimed a little high and hit a little low, but it’s an enjoyable adventure with some unexpected twists that, unfortunately, happen to be mixed in with a lot of the expected ones.
Warcraft takes place early in the storyline of the video game, when orcs enter Azeroth for the very first time under the leadership of Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), a wizard whose fel magic requires the constant sacrifice of life. So his orcs scourge the land, abducting human beings to use as fuel to open a bigger portal that will bring their entire species into these greener pastures.
Meanwhile, the humans – led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and Lady Taria (Ruth Negga) – are allying to hold back the horde. On their side are a noble warrior named Anduin (Travis Fimmel), and a powerful wizard named Medivh (Ben Foster).
And between them all are the orcs whose allegiances are less clear: Durotan (Toby Kebbell), a clan leader who suspects that Gul’dan is not the savior he appears to be, and Garona (Paula Patton), a half-orc/half-human hybrid – apparently – who owes fealty to neither side, and has the potential to turn the tide of battle in either direction.
There’s lot of characters, that’s for sure. I didn’t even mention a lot of them. One of the film’s biggest failings is its inability to give these familiar fantasy archetypes enough screen time to emerge as distinctive characters. For every fascinating, engagingly acted figure like Garona there are plenty like Medivh, who are supposed to be super-duper important but who aren’t exactly developed very well. How magic works, how secret societies function and who is fated to turn into what – concepts which will probably be familiar to most fans of the game – are frustratingly opaque in this movie, especially to newcomers.
And yet there is an undeniable zeal to be found in Warcraft, a refreshing sincerity for old-fashioned fantasy conceits. Duncan Jones’s film defies ironic detachment. Those looking for cheap thrills and camp value will be severely disappointed, and those looking for decent drama that takes orcs seriously as characters will find it if they’re willing to do a little work. It takes Warcraft a while to get going, and by the time everyone’s had their proper introduction it’s already time to start wrapping things up.
The thing about Warcraft is, there’s a reason people spend hours and hours and hours and sometimes even whole years of their life inside of this world. There is an awful lot to explore, and cramming it all into the running time of a single movie is sometimes exciting, but it also usually comes across as a bit frantic. What Warcraft, the movie, really needed was another hour or so to make this very polished fantasy world seem lived in, and to explore more details that won’t necessarily be important later, and to let the characters talk to each other about something other than the plot for more than one single, solitary scene.
We are still waiting for a great video game movie. Maybe we’ll never get one, but a film like Warcraft at least makes it feel like we’re buffering for it. This is an honest attempt to recapture the finer qualities of its source material inside of another medium. When it works, it’s a lot of fun. When it fails, it’s merely an average fantasy adventure that focuses too much on familiar plot devices to make a major impact.
But there’s nothing wrong with not being great, so long as you don’t suck. And Warcraft doesn’t suck. It’s a flawed but likable adventure that I would happily go on again, preferably as a double feature with The Beastmaster, Legend or Ladyhawke.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.