Warcraft is the video game-inspired movie that a lot of people seem to be looking to in order to sell the idea of video game-inspired movie adaptations. It’s small wonder why, since Warcraft is easily the largest and most ambitious video game adaptation since 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time from Disney, and has received an enormous amount of promotion and billing from studios, Universal and Legendary Pictures. Considering how insanely rich and detailed Warcraft lore is, it really does invite itself to plenty of cinematic possibilities, with Warcraft predictably going back to the earliest reaches of the games’ canon, during the outset of classic Warcraft PC strategy games that began with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994, while adding later elements and characters from games like Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (despite the enormous amount of critics claiming that the movie is inspired by massively popular online RPG, World of Warcraft, this is technically incorrect), and genuinely wanting to position itself as a big new franchise tentpole for Universal.
With so much riding on this movie’s success then, it’s not helped by just about every critic savagely ripping apart Warcraft, likely for the cardinal sin of simply being a video game adaptation. Then again, almost all of the critics couldn’t even correctly identify the games that actually inspired this movie, so it’s also fair to say that few, if any, have their facts straight on this franchise. Critic ignorance aside though, is Warcraft truly another failed video game adaptation to toss onto the decaying pile built largely by Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson?
Well, if you’re a fan of this franchise, or simply a champion for good video game adaptations at the movies, you can rest easy in knowing that Warcraft is actually good. It’s not amazing. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not an instant classic that you will be fondly recalling to your grandkids who are probably going to be preparing to go to the 4D hologram release of Overwatch 5: The Revenge. What Warcraft is though is a step up for video game adaptations, and genuine proof that they can be well-produced, fun, stylish, and deeply respectful of their source material, without being a slave to it. This movie is not without its flaws, but as an impressive-looking and surprisingly well-acted spectacle of escapist fantasy, Warcraft manages to succeed as a worthy Summer blockbuster, even if it’s still paving the way for the true champion of video game adaptations.
There are tons of personalities at play in Warcraft, almost too much in fact. Avid Warcraft fans will have no trouble keeping track of the returning faces from the games, and the all-new personalities that have been invented for the movie to complement them, but those unfamiliar with the canon of the Warcraft games might be a little intimidated at the sheer amount of characters that audiences must keep track of. Even Game of Thrones would raise an eyebrow at this massive cast of factions, heroes and villains, and it’s true that the movie could have been a bit more concise with its characters and focus.
Does that make the characters bad though? No. The human characters, the Alliance of fictional world, Azeroth, make less of an impression, but they’re still entertaining heroes that are worth rooting for, even if they don’t stray far from fantasy archetypes in this case. Our main character, for the most part, is Travis Fimmel’s Anduin Lothar, a selfless knight who has made many sacrifices for the good of protecting the land. Fimmel’s charisma varies between scenes, but he just barely escapes being a bland protagonist, even if he does tred a lot of well-worn ground for fantasy heroes.
Similarly, the movie’s other human characters aren’t anything you haven’t seen before. You have your noble king and queen, Llane and Taria Wrynn, respectively, ironically portrayed by Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, the male and female lead of AMC’s new comic book-inspired series, Preacher, your upstart underdog sidekick, Khadgar, played by Ben Schnetzer, your stoic world guardian, Medivh, played by Ben Foster, and Lothar’s brave son, Callan, eager to prove himself to his father and the land, played by Burkely Duffield. You can probably fill in the blanks with a lot of these characters, who are also portrayed exactly as you would expect them to be, though there are a handful of decent twists that you won’t expect, at least, if you haven’t played the Warcraft games.
More so than the Alliance treading well-worn territory for fantasy movies though, the real problem with the Alliance is that the movie doesn’t find an effective way to, ironically, align them into a cohesive whole. Part of the reason why Warcraft will be hard to follow for newcomers, beyond the dense lore that is full of a lot of invented terms (even if the movie does explain what most of the terms mean), is that the movie has a habit of jumping around huge chunks of Azeroth rather quickly. The characters rarely come together across the movie’s many scenes, which helps make Warcraft feel big, but also very scattered. This direction might be well and good for the case of the classic Warcraft computer games, but in the case of the movie, it hurts the focus in the human-driven scenes, and makes the human arcs more difficult to follow than they should be.
Fortunately, there is a major saving grace among Warcraft’s characters, and that’s the supposed villains, the Orcs, which comprise the opposing faction to the Alliance, the Horde. The Orcs have a far better-defined culture than the Alliance, a far more cohesive sense of unity that makes their character arcs easier to follow, and are even performed noticeably better, delivering some of the best performances in the history of video game adaptations at the movies to date! The character conflicts with the Orcs are also far more interesting, deep and morally complex, as they face having to leave their dying world of Draenor, and discuss doing so at the cost of using cursed magic and invading a foreign world that has no quarrel with them. Frankly, it almost feels like Warcraft should have been almost completely about the Orcs! It would have made for a tighter and more unique fantasy movie, especially when the Orc personalities are so much more memorable and emotional in this movie.
The Orcs’ actions are being dictated by warlock, Gul’dan, played by Daniel Wu, who has used forbidden spells to direct the Horde to Azeroth, and drain the life of its people and wildlife with reckless abandon to fuel the survival of the Orcs. The Orcs are forced to go along with this due to fear and desperation, with Gul’dan himself even debatably not being a full-fledged villain, since, from his point of view, he’s doing what he has to do to preserve his people. Some, like Clancy Brown’s Blackhand, the chieftain of the Orcs’ especially fearsome Blackrock Clan, happily go along with Gul’dan’s designs, while other Orcs, namely Toby Kebbell’s Durotan, chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, decide that they can’t follow Gul’dan, and try to work with the humans to save both of their people.
The moral complexity of the Orc arc shows that video game adaptations can be a lot more than disposable kids’ stuff, which studio heads for whatever reason still think they are, despite most video games nowadays being marketed exclusively towards adults. The Orc performances really count too, since they’re good enough to help audiences forget that the Orcs are all a special effect, a CG/mo-cap army that nonetheless manages to feel surprisingly, and strangely, human, if still appropriately foreign in terms of appearance and psychology. The only painted-up actor on the Orcs’ side is Paula Patton, playing a half-breed human/Orc hybrid named Garona Halforcen, who was invented for the movie. Representing the character caught between the two factions in a very literal way, Garona unfortunately spends a huge chunk of Warcraft being a token ambassador and love interest, though towards the end of the movie, her arc does go somewhere more interesting, even if it does sadly dovetail into feeling like sequel bait towards the credits.
Hopefully, you preferred playing as the Orcs in your possible time with the Warcraft games, because those are the characters that seem to have been given the best treatment in this movie. The Alliance is still competent and well-realized enough to get behind in their separate efforts to defend Azeroth, but it’s clear which basket the movie put most of its eggs in.
Warcraft attempts to incorporate a lot of established events in the canon of the Warcraft games, and because of that, its lore-based focus can make the storyline a little impenetrable and imposing. Like I said, there’s a lot to keep track of in this movie, between locations, personalities and characters that seem to all flash by very quickly, which might confuse people who aren’t well-versed in large-scale fantasy universes, Azeroth or otherwise. Fans of the Warcraft games will definitely appreciate the painstaking efforts by the filmmakers to faithfully and accurately represent the source material, but those outside of the fanbase might find this first step into Azeroth to be a bit overwhelming at first.
When it comes down to it though, describing the over-arching conflict of the movie isn’t too hard. Essentially, there are two separate worlds during the movie’s events, the human Alliance world, Azeroth, and the Orc Horde world, Draenor. Draenor is rapidly dying, forcing the Orcs, led by sinister warlock, Gul’dan, to try to use dark magic called Fel, which is powered by the lifeforce of living beings, to open a portal to another world that the Orcs can conquer and call home. That world is Azeroth. With the humans of Azeroth suddenly finding themselves up against massive, highly skilled Orc warriors, the likes of which they’ve never seen before, the Alliance must figure out how to deal with the threat, as well as whether or not they can trust the Orc dissenters who claim to disagree with Gul’dan’s plans.
That’s the long and short of the movie, and as long as you don’t lose sight of that over-arching conflict, eventually, you will be able to wrap your head around Warcraft and its events. You go to plenty of places in Azeroth that should be familiar to fans of the classic Warcraft games and World of Warcraft, such as the Alliance kingdom, Stormwind and the Guardian’s dwelling, Tirisfal, but the overabundance of details can sometimes be a bit much, especially when the movie doesn’t establish some of them very well.
For all of its lack of focus though, the movie feels like a genuine Warcraft experience, and captures the appeal of the game franchise within its story, without necessarily requiring knowledge of the games to enjoy it, even if knowledge of the games helps to keep track of the many names and places. Certain sections of this movie could have been trimmed and tightened, mind you, and strangely, Warcraft’s plot has the opposite problem of many video game-inspired movies, being arguably too dense, rather than too shallow. Still, one has to respect the effort to being very faithful to Warcraft lore and personalities, for better or for worse, even if squishing that huge chunk of lore into a two-hour movie predictably doesn’t work without a sense of Warcraft feeling a bit over-stuffed.
Duncan Jones directs Warcraft, after doing some remarkably creative work in the sci-fi genre with Moon and Source Code, and his crossing over into the fantasy genre doesn’t disappoint from a directorial standpoint either. Again, Jones’ direction is a little scattered at times, with the movie cramming in an excessive amount of lore and references to the games that sometimes make Azeroth a little difficult to follow in this movie, also undermining the Alliance characters’ arcs to boot, but from the standpoint of action, scale and the portrayal of the Orcs, Jones’ direction is consistently exceptional.
Along with capturing the vibe and appeal of the games, Jones successfully makes the Orcs feel lifelike and well-developed, regardless of whether or not they fall in line with Gul’dan. Even in the case of the Alliance though, Jones directs the action scenes very well, giving them a great fantastical sense of might and fury. There’s a definite feeling of fighting for the fate of two worlds throughout much of Warcraft, with all of the flashy spectacle and bloody fury that this should come with, and if nothing else, this movie definitely feels big and impressive, more so than any video game adaptation on the big screen before it. Jones’ creativity certainly shone through more in his duo of sci-fi movie darlings, but the emotion, drama, power and splendour of Warcraft is all effectively captured in this movie, even if it’s sometimes buried under an almanac’s worth of references to the games.
The music suite of Warcraft, composed by Ramin Djawadi, feels true to the games, in that it echoes the sense of warlike tension combined with high fantasy spectacle. It’s a rather perfunctory score, but it does fit with the style of the classic Warcraft strategy games, and arguably gives their sensibilities an added cinematic punch. If you’re a Warcraft fan, you probably won’t be playing this movie’s score alongside compositions from the actual Warcraft games, but it gets the job done for immersing you in the big screen experience.
The rest of the audio work, primarily the powerful sound mixing, is very striking and well-done though. There’s a huge amount of power to the Orcs especially, who seem to grind all of their human targets into the very dirt with every blow, having their imposing, mighty attacks really sound with the proper impact every time. IMAX theatres and other such premium formats capture the steel and stone-fueled skirmishes of the Warcraft movie to even more outstanding effect, and despite some of the impenetrable narrative elements, Warcraft is definitely a movie that demands to be experienced on the big screen for any kind of action or fantasy enthusiast, let alone fans of the source games, since that’s the best place to experience just how credible its vicious and powerful war machine truly is!
As you can imagine, if nothing else, Warcraft definitely looks the part! Even amidst some of its story issues, this is a gorgeous movie that beautifully realizes the style and personalities of the games! There’s a dodgy effect here and there, especially in some of the magic-driven scenes, but the rest of the effects and set work is absolutely breathtaking. This is easily the most impressively-produced video game-inspired movie made to date, and as fantastically realized as the scale and action is, the effects behind the Orcs are even better! Like I said, the Orc effects are so good that it’s easy to forget that they are effects, since they look as believable and lifelike as the many other fantastical elements of the movie’s world(s). If you’ve been waiting your whole life to see Warcraft unfold on the big screen, you’ll be floored by how great it looks here, and even people who have never seen the Warcraft games before will be easily impressed by this movie’s stylish, exciting visuals.
Even the 3D presentation is very good for the most part. The 3D is generally subtle, but it does beautifully enhance the movie’s atmosphere, appearing to have many scenes effectively stretch into the distance, in turn making Azeroth seem much grander and more immersive. The visuals on the IMAX screen in the IMAX 3D cut are a little less impressive, since Warcraft doesn’t feel perfectly optimized for IMAX screens, though the IMAX 3D cut is still worth shelling out for if you’re so inclined, since it does add a great upgrade to the already impressive audio work. At the very least, I strongly encourage would-be viewers to see the movie in a standard digital 3D showing, assuming they either don’t have a choice or want to save money in contrast to the IMAX 3D cut, where they’ll get the most out of the colourful and lively visuals and special effects, all of which perfectly bring the Warcraft experience to the movies, and give video game-inspired movies a true visual juggernaut that they’ve been mostly, and surprisingly, lacking.
In trying so hard to be faithful and true to the spirit, lore and appeal of the source games, Warcraft may have gone too far in the other direction from many other video game flicks, becoming dense and difficult to follow at times, when most other video game-inspired movies are too often happy to be disposable adolescent fodder. Despite its flaws though, Warcraft is not throwaway fodder in the slightest. It’s a video game-inspired movie that may be over-stuffed and convoluted at times, but still carries itself with dignity and pride, and especially a huge level of style to back that up!
The perfect recipe for great video game-inspired movies is closer than it’s ever been to being perfected, and Warcraft demonstrates some of the incredible potential behind a video game adaptation that a studio actually cares about, that has a competent director, writers and actors putting it together, and that is marketed to intelligent and mature moviegoers, rather than ADD-riddled tweens with more money than brains. This movie definitely won’t be the best movie that you’ll see all Summer, but it’s a competent, enjoyable and exciting fantasy movie that proves the potential of video game-inspired movies as bona fide blockbusters.
If you’re a Warcraft fan, then you’ll really enjoy this movie, especially since you won’t be confused at certain story elements like newcomers may be, and should absolutely go and see it. If you just happen to enjoy action or fantasy, and don’t have any prior experience with the source games, Warcraft still deserves to be experienced, especially in theatres, where it’s at its most impressive and spectacular. The density of the movie does make it difficult to watch without open eyes, ears, and most importantly, an open mind, but if you’re ready for the next level of video game adaptations, Warcraft is a movie that you’ll be able to easily enjoy and root for, even if there’s still a few levels ahead before video game-inspired movies can truly join the best of blockbusters.
- Universally great Orc portrayals
- Spectacular sets and visual effects
- Mighty, thrilling action choreography
- Human characters are significantly less interesting
- Dense, convoluted plot too often feels impenetrable