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Warcraft (also known as Warcraft: The Beginning) is a gorgeous fantasy production on a grand scale with a narrative that never quite lives up to its visual spectacle and epic action.
Directed and co-written by Duncan Jones, and based on the fantasy video game series of the same name by Blizzard Entertainment, Warcraft is set in the fictional world of Azeroth, which finds itself under attack by an unknown threat. Orcs, fleeing from their ravaged homeworld, have come to Azeroth through a Dark Portal and wage war against the forces of the Alliance. Durotan (Toby Kebbel), chieftain of one of the orc clans, fears that the orcs have been led astray by the warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and the war with the humans is a mistake. Dark forces are at play that threaten both sides and it will take the combined efforts of a handful of heroes to stave off catastrophe.
Warcraft is a gorgeous fantasy epic that makes a lasting impression with its breathtaking landscapes and phenomenal special effects. The orcs in particular are an incredible technical achievement. They are large, hulking brutes that are as lifelike and expressive as any of the human actors in the movie. Apart from a few hiccups here and there (one scene of an orc snapping a human soldier’s neck during the final battle is hilariously off in its execution – pun intended), Warcraft is worth the price of admission simply to see the spectacle unfold on a big screen.
The acting is a little wooden, but in that very specific type of dramatically overwrought that fits the bill with the fantasy genre, so it’s never really distracting. No, the real issue is the story and the writing.
I have personally been out of the loop when it comes to the Warcraft games for the better part of a decade now, but I do know a thing or to about the lore of the series that the movie is tapping into for its narrative. That knowledge helped me piece together what the movie was trying to do and what it was building towards – but I imagine that anyone unfamiliar with Warcraft or its storied history will be a little lost in Azeroth, and more than likely will have a hard time finding a reason to care.
Warcraft pulls different strands from different early stories and tries to weave them into a coherent narrative, and while it mostly succeeds, the end result is a story that is very emotionally distant. It’s hard to connect with any of the characters, even speaking as a fan who actually knows a few of them by name from the games. The Medivh (Ben Foster) subplot, which ends up playing a pivotal role in the movie’s story, is perhaps the most poorly handled. The lack of a strong emotional connection robs the epic action setpieces of a lot of their luster. They are undoubtedly great to look at, but dramatically they feel more hollow.
The movie’s attempts at comedy were also never successful, although at least they were not too cringeworthy either.
Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that the story does not really get a proper resolution. The movie sets the stage for what’s to follow, but wraps its ongoing story up in an unsatisfying manner.
Despite this Warcraft is still the best video game movie adaptation ever made. It matches the tone, look and feel of the game and shows a deeply rooted sense of respect for the source material, even if it stumbles in making it seem cohesive.
Warcraft is not the best start for a potential franchise, but I would be interested in seeing a sequel, as long as it provides a stronger narrative focus and better characterization. As is stands, it’s a technical masterpiece that falls short of true greatness.