Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell
Directed by Duncan Jones
Distributed by Universal Pictures
I had actually been avoiding seeing this movie. I’ve been a Warcraft fan since Orcs & Humans. I’ve played all the strategy games through, and even did my time in WoW. My most recent addiction is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, which I comfortably dump at least two hours into daily. Overall, there’s no telling just how much time and money I’ve sunk into the lands of Azeroth (and the Outlands). So this film should be perfect for me, right?
Well, as much as I love the series, I’ve never been a huge fan of the constant World of Warcraft retcon. Back in my day, orcs were green, and everyone was just fine with it. With each new expansion, they kept trying to extend the lore at the expense of the core story. Now we have brown orcs, red orcs, green orcs, space goats, and pandas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we have to take a story about interdimensional orcs fighting an eternal war against mankind seriously. I’m just saying that there’s a long history of messing with the Warcraft lore, and I wasn’t exactly excited to see how they continued that tradition in the film.
But hey, if Universal wants to send me the movie, I’ll watch it. I was aware that this was a telling of the events from the first game, but with the retcon of recent lore. Whatever, as long as there aren’t too many space goats, I’ll be fine.
I’m pleased to say that this is probably the best retelling of the Warcraft lore since Warcraft 3 made The Horde stop being the bad guys. The film had two hours to introduce a world, explain the events of the first game, find a way to include all of the newer plot elements, and still have time to make us care about the characters. And by golly, it seems like Duncan Jones did it.
First off, the visuals in the film are stunning. It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten to the point that CGI characters can look this good. The amount of subtle nuance in these 700 pound monsters is incredible. When you have real actors fighting CGI monsters, it can come off looking really goofy, but that never even crossed my mind while watching. It never feels like real actors interacting with cartoons.
It’s not just the CGI that impressed me. Warcraft really nails the look and feel of the games. This is a world where everything is exaggerated. Shields are the size of people, swords are five feet long, orcs ride on giant wolves, and wizards fling magic all over the place. It’s deliberately cartoony. How they translated that into the real world was magnificent. The oversized trees of Elwynn Forest were immediately recognizable, and the layout of the inn took me right back to the Hillsbrad Foothills. It would be really easy to make it all look just slightly overdone, a little too goofy, but for me it never crossed that threshold.
If I were to pick the weakest part of Warcraft, it would be the uneven characters. There are simply too many people to really care about them all. King Llane in particular felt hollow, as we just didn’t get enough time with him to figure out what kind of a leader he was. I also wish that key characters got more screentime, such as Orgrim Doomhammer. He’s an absolutely massive part of the lore, but was more of Durotan’s sidekick in the film. Other than that, there were some really strong performances by Travis Fimmel as Anduin Lothar and Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar. Seeing these legendary characters brought to life and done so well was a treat.
The plot also felt rushed in places. When Garona eventually has to do her thing (that I won’t say because it would be a big spoiler), it comes off as random and out of character. To be fair, it was also pretty poorly explained in the game. The worst part was the final fight between Blackhand and Lothar. The whole movie builds up to this epic showdown, and it’s over in two seconds. Did they just run out of money? With a budget of $100 million, I doubt it.
What’s amazing to me was how little I cared about the plot changes. I’m a massive lore nerd, so I’m exactly the kind of person that would get miffed by the slightest alteration. They did change some stuff in Warcraft, but it was all in the service of making the overall film better. Of the things they did change, almost none of it compromised the integrity of the narrative. If you’re going to have to change things to adapt a video game into a film, this is how you do it.
I said almost none of it, because there was one change that really bugged me. This is my paragraph to nerd rage a bit. In the film Warcraft, Anduin Lothar is the one who takes down Blackhand. In the game, it was Orgrim Doomhammer. This is a massive change. In the game, Doomhammer takes down Blackhand to wrest control of The Horde away from Gul’dan and the Shadow Council. It’s a turning point for The Horde, reasserting the warrior rule and purging the corruption from the highest ranks. In the film, they changed it to Lothar because he was grumpy that Blackhand killed his son. It just doesn’t have the same impact. I understand how it was in service of making the film have a more complete arc, but it’s a big change to the integrity of the world.
As a fan, it was great to see this world I’ve spent so much time with come to life. What was even more fun was getting to nerd out about it for the rest of the night to my girlfriend. She’s never played a Warcraft game, and after the movie wanted to know more. It was special for me to see that same spark of interest in her that grew in me all those years ago. There’s something magical about Warcraft, a rich wonder that has drawn so many people in for decades. It’s not a perfect film, but that wonder is alive here.
Speaking of wonder, with all of the great visuals on display, it was almost impossible that the special features wouldn’t be at least interesting. There’s plenty of that here, with an excellent series of vignettes titled “The World of Warcraft on Film.” I’m always a fan of alternate endings and stuff, but really for me the mark of a good special feature is that it helps you appreciate the movie more. I have to say, after watching what exactly it took to bring this all to life, I’m deeply impressed. I had no idea how much I cared about costume design until I learned about the level of detail that went into crafting all of the armor and outfits.
A special feature I liked on a more personal level was “The Fandom of Warcraft.” Honestly, I’m not one to reminisce, but seeing the earnest display of love for a series I used to be so involved in really brought me back. It took me right back to my days in S.T.R.I.K.E., my teenage guild that raided the likes of Icecrown Citadel and Black Temple on the server Coilfang. “The Fandom of Warcraft” didn’t really add to the film, but it was a nice, warm moment that fans like me will surely be able to relate to.
Other than that, we have some pretty stock deleted scenes, a gag reel, and filler. The only really bad feature is the “Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood” motion comic. The voice acting was terrible, and plot total nonsense. It’s supposed to give you some insight into the events leading up to the film, but it really just sucked.
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- The Fandom of Warcraft
- ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft
- Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood Motion Comic
- The World of Warcraft on Film: Talent, VFX, Stunts, and More
- Warcraft: The Madame Tussauds Experience
- Warcraft Teaser 2013