Warcraft Review

*Here there be (some) spoilers*

Warcraft is a mixed bag of good and bad parts. The orcs were amazing, some of the action choreography was great, the production design was (mostly) on point, and several of the actors were very convincing. It’s not nearly as bad as some of the critics have claimed, but it also has some very deep seated issues that are bigger than this particular film. These issues go much deeper, and are part of the development of the franchise itself.

The good parts were mostly when the orcs were on screen. Visuals aside, the orcs’ stories were interesting, textured, and multidimensional. Each of the orc characters were bundles of conflicting motives, and the way they responded to these conflicts felt natural and organic. That’s surprising considering that they were represented on screen by completely imaginary imagery, but the state of the art motion capture technology did a very good job of bringing the actor’s performances to life despite all this.

Something I found enjoyable was how, for the most part, the design of the orc’s material culture reminisced to earlier times when grunts would run around on screen saying “zug zug” to you every two seconds. This simple visual call back to the early games of the franchise was well blended with visual elements that were introduced later in World of Warcraft.

Other visuals in the film were equally good. The set design for the Alliance cities filled my inner fanboy with glee (seeing Ironforge on screen nearly had me jump out of my seat), and the armor for the humans was a good blend of historic, utilitarian, kit and fantasy art.

Action scenes were generally good across the board. I was particularly impressed by the restraint shown by the director when choosing fight choreography. This could have quickly escalated into something ridiculous that would be more at home in the Final Fantasy franchise, but instead all action was direct and to the point without unnecessary embellishment. In particular I enjoyed the dual between Durotan and Gul’dan. It was just very satisfying to see a combat scene where I felt actual dangerous intent between the combatants rather than the flourishes that can be typical in other fantasy pieces.

In general I felt like the film was paced pretty well. Similar to the action scenes, the story was direct and to the point with relatively few melodramatic embellishments, with a few exceptions.

These exceptions lead me to the parts of the film that I didn’t like. Most of this was on the human part of the story. Every time the human characters were on screen I stopped caring, and that’s not because I’m a Horde elitist (I play humans in WC3, I played a dwarf paladin in WoW). The issue was that these characters did not have nearly the drive or complexity that the orc characters had. This can be attributed to the simple story telling of the game that this film was based off from, but attempts to make the characters more interesting came off as flat.

Lothar was just another brooding hero type guy, but it felt melodramatic and forced. Maybe an extended director’s cut could fix this, but for the version I saw, I couldn’t be bothered to care about him. Also, Star Wars should have taught us that watching heads of governments talk to soldiers about things rarely makes an interesting script.

Medivh’s storyline made very little sense to me, and I would have much preferred to see the kinds of conflicts of interest and lapses in judgement that happened all the time on the orc side. Also, the duel with him and the golem at the end was pretty dissatisfying because it required accepting a bunch of things happening at once just to force the plot. I would have preferred to see the well thought out and organic actions that were elsewhere in the script.

Khadgar was fun to watch at least. I did like Khadgar. Although, his little expedition to Dalaran started to feel like some of the worst kinds of things that can happen in fantasy films.

In general, the pitfalls that the film avoided with the orcs, it fell straight into with the humans. While much of the production design of the film was good, some of the worst of it was the unarmored human costumes. They looked more like cosplay than clothes in many ways (especially Medivh’s gettups). The magic in the film had a tendency towards “way too convenient,” a general problem in fantasy media that has the effect of murdering any kind of stakes. The stilted reciting of incantations started to grate on me, even if they were necessary so they could show the “silence” mechanic in live action (which I didn’t really find that fulfilling).

In general though, I don’t think the film did anything worse than what the franchise as a whole has done. In the pursuit of making the Horde and Alliance ever more obvious foils, the dichotomy has become more and more interesting vs boring instead of the original distinction of civilized vs barbaric. The Horde is no longer barbaric, and the Alliance is no longer a bastion of civilization, instead the Horde is interesting, and the Alliance is boring.

In the film, the Alliance is shown as a more or less concrete group of people that, while they don’t agree, sit around tables discussing the logistics of moving resources. In actuality, each of these three human kingdoms, multiple dwarf clans, and factions of elves would all have their own motivations and agendas that are enough to start conflicts of their own. An interesting Alliance would illustrate those conflicts, but instead we were given a room full of angsty senators, and the assumption that these were just a bunch of unruly grouches rather than representatives of fully fledged independent cultures.

Compare that to the Horde, which, even in this story about its beginnings, is hopelessly fractured and desperate. There’s no way a room full of senators will ever be as interesting as that. This is a general problem with the Warcraft franchise, and possibly with the fantasy genre itself: it romanticizes civilization and magic without saying anything about the conflicts that can arise when independent civilizations clash. Instead (because they’re so boring) you need the hopelessly uncivilized Horde to come and make some kind of conflict.

This film did not have enough dwarves.

That basically sums up my impressions of the film. I felt like it had some very good parts and some not so great parts, but those troubles can be tied to problems with the franchise’s development as a whole and not placed squarely on this film’s shoulders.

If you need a number I give this film 7 out of 10.

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