This article was under a review embargo until Mon 30th at 12pm, but that appears to have been lifted, so without further ado…
The (World of) Warcraft movie has lingered in development hell for nearly as long as there’s been a World of Warcraft. It has been in a seemingly perpetual state of development for exactly 10 years now, since May 2006, and has had various writers, directors and approaches considered and rejected over the course of its history.
However with Duncan Jones, director of the superb Moon signing on to direct, things began to look up…
Currently on Metacritic, the Warcraft movie is polling terribly, with an average score of 37. Professional critics appear to hate the film, yet anyone who’s actually seen the film that is a fan, or not, has enjoyed it. In fact that last review link is from Mark Kermode, a well respected film reviewer in the UK, and HE liked it, despite never playing the game and approaching it as a completely blank slate experience.
So what gives? What side of the fence did I fall on?
Well, let’s dig into it in a bit more detail first…
The film is set during the events of the First War, when the Orcs first poured through the Dark Portal and attacked Azeroth, bent on claiming this lush new world as their own. This came about as their own world, Draenor, was dying and wouldn’t sustain life for very much longer.
The film opens on modern day Azeroth, with an Alliance Soldier facing off against a modern day Orc Warrior, standing astride his firmly planted Horde Banner, and the voice of Lothar begins narrating, stating that the war between the Horde and the Alliance wasn’t always so.
We are then taken back 30 years or so to the main events of the film.
Led by the noble Durotan, he and his wife Draka are our main “Horde” PoV characters for the film. We open up with them, seeing a quiet moment demonstrating their relationship together. It’s a warm, loving, jovial relationship the two of these characters share, and it’s utterly charming and believable.
Durotan leads his clan alongside other clan leaders, like Rend Blackhand, Grommash Hellscream and others, following under the guidance of the Warlock Gul’dan. Gul’dan has promised them a new world, a world ripe for the taking as its denizens are weak and easily broken.
The story then takes off, and tells, what to old school Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans players, will be a very familiar tale.
The film switches between the viewpoints of the Horde characters, primarily Durotan and Draka, with those of the Alliance characters, primarily in this case Anduin Lothar and the mage Khadgar.
The world of both Azeroth, and fleetingly Draenor, are excellently realised. Even though the world in the film is much much bigger than what we see in-game (obviously the in-game world is much compressed for game-play reasons), regular WoW players will see much that they recognise and can delight in.
I spent most of my time in awe over how well presented the landscapes were, and instantly recognised many many locations, not just the main city of Stormwind.
We visit many locations in the movie:
- The Black Morass
- Deadwind Pass
- The Barrens
- Elwynn Forest
- Edit: Forgot to include Westfall, which appears briefly!
So many visual treats for WoW players to gorge their eyes on, and so satisfying to see them up on the big screen, painted with millions of dollars as the brush.
The CGI & SFX
This was a worry for me beforehand, as bad CGI can break an otherwise great film.
However for me this turned out to be a significant plus point of the film. The Orcs are all 100% CG, and they are so damned gorgeous in their detail. Small things like darting eyes, pores, hair, grime, sweat; it’s just all so fecking beautiful. I saw the film in 3D, and 3D normally takes away some of the HD details, so I’ll be seeing it again in 2D next weekend, but the CG throughout the film, not just the orcs, was absolutely top notch. As you’d expect with the royalty that is Industrial Light & Magic at the helm.
But the thing for me that stood out in this department?
The visual representation of the use of magic. It’s stunningly beautiful. Seriously gorgeous, I fell in love with it. I wish our spells in-game looked even half this good.
The acting in the film ranged from the excellent (Khadgar & Taria), to the simply passable (King Llane Wrynn).
Now normally I quite like Dominic Cooper, here King Llane. I enjoyed his portrayal of Howard Stark in the 2 seasons of Agent Carter (now sadly cancelled!), but here he largely failed to bring any real sense of authority or gravitas to the role of the King. He seemed to squeak his way through most scenes, and any time Travis Fimmel appeared on screen, he was blown away.
Speaking of Lothar? He was great, and Travis Fimmel did a sterling job. He showed Lothar to be a completely badass mofo, and a warrior that even the orcs feared to take on.
Ruth Negga, some iffy accent issues aside (starts off as cut-glass English RP, then slips into her natural Irish brogue by film’s end), she did an excellent job as Lady Taria, wife of the king and mother of Varian Wrynn.
Medivh, played by Ben Foster, sadly fell into the slightly iffy camp for me. He, for some reason, seemed to be playing Medivh with a somewhat Cowboy-southern drawl at times. Half the time I expected him to tell the orcs it was High Noon…
The standout for me though? Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar. He portrays a young Khadgar, before he’s aged artificially, and he really did a fantastic job IMO.
There were some great buddy-cop moments between him and Travis Fimmel’s Lothar that I really loved, and you can tell the two of them enjoyed working together. He brought more gravitas and worth to his role as a disgraced Kirin Tor initiate than Dominic Cooper did to his as King Llane. Superb work.
And lastly for the in-camera actors, Paula Patton did a great job as the Orc/Draenei warrior Garona.
The MoCap and voice work by the orc actors shouldn’t be dismissed either.
Toby Kebbell’s Durotan is believable, grounded and he portrays the young Frostwolf clan leader as both a likeable person, and a respected warrior.
Draka was in the movie only fleetingly, in a few short scenes throughout, but what was there, saw Anna Galvin acquit herself with much aplomb.
Rob Kazinzky as Orgrim also did a fantastic job. The lucky bastard that he is, (as he’s a current WoW player) he gets to act in his dream job, bringing such an iconic character as the original wielder of the Doomhammer to life. Both him and Durotan share a deep friendship, and that comes across on screen with ease.
Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu as Blackhand and Gul’dan respectively each did a great job as well. Imbuing their characters with a menace and threat that came across even through the MoCap.
The music was absolutely bloody superb throughout, but what do you expect when you hire the guy, Ramin Djawadi, that wrote the music for Game of Thrones?
In fact, you can listen to the entire soundtrack here for a limited time on SoundCloud for yourself. In fact, I’m listening to it right now as I’m writing this! Loved it!
What didn’t work…
There were some elements for me that didn’t quite work. Be warned though:
Spoilers abound within!
[su_spoiler title=”Spoilers for Warcraft: The Beginning!”]
Ok, so Draka and Durotan are the main Horde PoV characters.
Draka gives birth to Go’El (Thrall) at the very beginning of the movie, and in fact she goes into labour during the portal loading screen for want of a better term. She gives birth immediately on the other side, but the child is still-born.
Gul’dan, perhaps to prove a point, drains the life force of a nearby deer and invests that life force into the infant’s lifeless body, thus infusing him with fel and turning him into the future green jebus we all know and hate(ish). So, what? Thrall’s a fel-orc now?
However, as long-term fans know, both Draka and Durotan die not long after entering Azeroth, and this was my biggest complaint about the entire film.
Draka dies a quiet, noble death, protecting her baby by the riverside, from Gul’dan’s betrayal when he wipes out the Frostwolves.
Durotan however? He died in a rather cheap, off-handed, dismissive manner and was left for dead with barely a second thought. This irked me more than anything after coming out of the theatre. In fact Lothar’s very incidental, bit-part, son died with more importance and gravitas than our main Horde PoV character did.
Durotan’s needless (IMO) death should have had more importance placed on it, or left for a more appropriate point in the film, but to me it was treated like the death of a random orc or alliance guard: “Yeah he’s dead, right let’s move on and ignore his existence”.
Very disappointing, and leaves one major question: With both Horde lead characters dead, in the event of a possible sequel, who will act as the eyes of the audience on the red side of the conflict? Garona? Orgrim?
The pacing seems a bit rushed at times as well, jumping from scene to scene seemingly in a hurry to get through the story before closing time.
Medivh, as per the game, betrays the Alliance, and is revealed to be the one who beckoned Gul’dan and the Orcs into Azeroth. He claimed that he was corrupted by “The Fel”, but before the orcs came through, there was no Fel Magic on Azeroth.
We, as players, know he was born already possessed by Sargeras, and know that’s why he summoned the orcs, but general audiences won’t have a clue, and may be utterly confused.
So we, as an audience, are meant to believe he summoned Gul’dan to Azeroth, by himself, without prior knowledge of the existence of Orcs or Draenor, and furthermore retained no memory of it, as he stated after his betrayal was revealed? Hmmmm.
The romance between Garona and Lothar was completely unnecessary and went nowhere.
Speaking of Garona, she was shown to be a proper “good guy” throughout the film, and whilst she does kill Llane as per the lore, it’s not because of any mind control by Gul’dan. Llane sacrifices himself for the sake of a future peace, and asks Garona to kill him and become a hero in the orc’s eyes.
Plus, not really a spoiler, but where the hell are the Gnomes? Yet again, Gnomes get the shaft when it comes to CG or cinematic treatment. Seriously bummed about this, because we visit Ironforge towards the start of the film, yet there were none present here, nor at any of the Alliance chamber meetings?
Wasn’t really expecting this, but there were no dragons or drakes in the film either. Maybe in the sequel we’ll get to see Alexstrasza!
Also, only one demon in the entire film, but on the plus side, it looked friggin’ awesome (no, not the golem/infernal from the trailer)…
Plus: Lady Taria (Ruth Negga) and Lothar are meant to be brother and sister? Wot? One is black, with an irish/english accent, the other is a blonde aussie with what appears to be his accent from Vikings.
One big disappointment? No Legion advertisement ahead of the film starting? Really? REALLY? You would think Blizzard would stipulate some sort of advert for WoW to be played with the pre-movie trailers. I found it astonishing that such an opportunity would be missed.
However I was at a press screening hosted by Universal, and they had all their own films trailed before the movie, so this may change upon general release.
Moroes before he went all Raid Boss!
Lothar’s gryphon? As much of a badass as Lothar himself. Seriously cool.
Polymorph! Yes, Khadgar polymorphs an NPC 😛
Garona mentions hearing Gul’dan’s master having a voice of “Fire and ash”. Kil’jaeden’s been busy…
The humour throughout the film is used appropriately and well. Some laugh out loud moments.
The fight between Lothar and his opponent right at the end of the film just shows what a badass he is.
The ferocious orc roar that ends the film 😀
PS: There are no mid or post credits sequences, trust me I waited. So once the orc roars it’s ferocious widdle roar, feel free to leave the cinema. Although if you’re a WoW player and a fan of the music? Wait for the scrolling credits….
I can guess why some critics are hating on this title, because it’s based on a video game property. Video game to movie adaptations in the past have all been notorious for how bad they’ve been:
- Mario Bros
- Street Fighter
- Mortal Kombat
- etc etc
But what all those source games had in common was one thing: They were all light to non-existent on storyline.
The one thing Warcraft, as a franchise, has in absolute bucket-loads?
In fact, there was slightly too much storyline presented here, leading to the slightly spotty pacing throughout. But overall I think Duncan Jones and the Cast and Crew have done a thoroughly excellent job.
Seriously, the small niggles aside, this was a great film and I enjoyed it immensely. Especially as a WoW player. But I enjoyed it as a fantasy film lover first, and as a spectacle for the WoW player in me secondarily.
I’ll definitely be going to see it again when it opens this coming week in the UK, because I want to support this effort as much as possible, because we all want to see a sequel, or perhaps trilogy or more come out of this initial foray into the cinematic world of Azeroth.
One of my favourite films of the year so far.