Now I’ve never played a Warcraft game, but I know a tiny amount. I was familiar with some of the races and I vaguely knew somewhere that the land was called Azeroth. So that’s my only grounding in this world, I’m certainly not a super fan, so that’s the level of knowledge you have to take this review at.
But first we have to address the wider issue of video game films. They generally suck. I’ve got a top 5 on video game films coming soon and that’s an issue I will address more then. But the fact there hasn’t really been a great one means that there is certainly extra pressure on any big ones that come out, such as Warcraft and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed. And this is by no means an exceptional film, but right now with the way the video game film genre is exceptional is a long way off. But it is a decent enough way to pass your time, as a fairly mediocre fantasy film.
I was very excited when I discovered that Duncan Jones was behind the film. His first two films, Moon and Source Code, are both fantastic and original films. One of the issues that Warcraft was always going to face is that originality was going to be hard to come by. Not only does it find itself adapting an existing property, but it’s a property that has always appeared rather generic and relying upon earlier fantasy. This really translated to the plot, which is so generic and lacks true motivations for any villains, it is merely explained as ‘for orcs war is everything’. The central villain, you’ll know the one he looks like a villain, has no character given to him at all.
The issue coming into from my position was the world that the film is set in has so much existing lore and that’s so difficult to translate into the screen. The early part of this jumps about so frenetically that it is hard to truly get a sense of the world, the cities, or the races. It is almost impossible to follow what anyone’s name’s are, but I found that the main characters look distinctive enough to tell them apart visually. The scope of everything that they had to introduce meant that the pacing of the first part of the film is far too quick and jumps around too much.
Not only do they have the whole world to introduce but there is a huge cast of characters. I’ve already mentioned how it’s hard to recall most of the character’s names so let’s get to the rest of it. I actually thought that of the 4 or 5 main characters a couple were pretty good. Toby Kebbell’s Durotan is probably the best thing in the film. It’s a strong performance and he’s the character with the most devoted to his motivations in the film. Meanwhile I found Travis Fimmel’s Lothar to be a likeable enough lead. Ben Schnetzer and Ben Foster were both fine as the mages, although Foster’s Medivh has little characterisation. Dominic Cooper’s King is dreadful; Cooper is pretty poor in the role (I’m still excited for Preacher though Dom).
It would be remiss of me not to talk about the visuals on the film. For the most part I thought that the CGI, which the film is obviously loaded with, was pretty good. The Orcs especially look stunning, and consistently so through the film. However there were several times where the effects were very apparent, and the film almost looked like a video game. The action was also a mixed bag. A couple of the fights were fairly intense and a good watch. But others, especially the larger scale ones were a bit of a CGI mess, which is often the case with generic fantasy films.
One weird thing about the film is that, despite the fact that it is a risk and may not resonate with audiences, is that it feels like the first instalment in a longer story. Now we’re not talking about an Amazing Spiderman 2 scenario where the film is essentially an extended trailer for a future film. Instead it feels like it is trying to echo the Fellowship of the Ring, where this is the first instalment in a saga. I say this is weird because I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Warcraft gets lost amongst all the other blockbusters (X-Men, Alice, TMNT, ect) and doesn’t perform well enough for a sequel to be green lit.
So I don’t think that this is the film that will win people over about video game films, but I think it is a step towards that. Rather than the normal complete pile of junk I think this is merely a mediocre film. If there is a second instalment that has the potential to be a lot better as they will need to do far less work introducing the world, and can spend more time telling a truly compelling story.