Video game movies usually suck. If you doubt me, pop in any of the Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, or Halo renditions—most didn’t even make it beyond the straight-to-video release. The most casual moviegoers can pick out this genre’s weak spots, and even dedicated gamers won’t tolerate shoddy casting, canned dialogue, and a rudimentary storyline, all for the sake of seeing their favorite characters come to life. I won’t. I love Lara Croft, but those films were atrocious.
It’s important to note that, although I love gaming, I’m not a religious warcrafter. My knowledge preceding the movie was based solely on my experience with a level one Night Elf specialized in hunting. I don’t recall her name, but I do recall that my playing time lasted about twenty minutes. Impressed? My high school crush wasn’t either. I may have set a record for the most deaths (me, not my enemies) in twenty minutes, though. Poor elf. When Warcraft: The Beginning was announced, I thought the trailers for the film were as disenchanting as my gameplay experience eight years ago, and my expectations were low going in.
The movie is based on World of Warcraft (WoW), a popular online RPG (role-playing game, for those of you with real lives) set in a magical, medieval world filled with fantasy races and enchantments. The game eventually inspired books, which is where most of the cannon came from. Never fear, however, for although the well-researched will appreciate the accuracy, viewers like me will be pleasantly surprised by the fact that you needn’t understand any of the lore to enjoy the film.
The third feature-length film for up-and-coming director Duncan Jones, Warcraft: The Beginning takes place in the mythological realm of Azeroth, which has been at peace for thousands of years and features a dominant human population. Chaos ensues when a mysterious portal summoned by a sinister leader, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), appears in Azeroth, and a new race starts seeping in: the orcs. Fleeing their dying world of Draenor, the orcs—self-deemed the Horde—will stop at nothing to find new land for their clans to flourish in, while the civilized races of Azeroth want only to save themselves from obliteration. As orc etiquette is about ten times worse than Game of Thrones’ Dothraki, it seems that both sides are at an impasse.
Cue the one semi-decently mannered orc, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), who starts to realize that Gul’dan’s green gas magic might do more harm than good. With a clan of honorable orcs, a loving wife, and a newborn, uh, orclet (?), he has a lot to lose. Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), is in a similar boat: brother-in-law to the king and an esteemed warrior, he is determined to stop the Horde and get to the bottom of the Fel magic. It isn’t long before Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), a rookie mage and scholar, and Garona (Paula Patton), an orc and human half-breed rejected by the Horde, cross paths with Anduin. The answer to destroying the portal and deadly magic appears to lie with the guardian of the world, Medivh (Ben Foster), but darker forces are afoot.
Casting was near-perfect for the movie, especially in regards to motion capture genius Toby Kebbell, who’s most recently known for portraying Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The orcs were extremely lifelike and fearsome to behold, yet, they had character, families, and stories. Their love of honor is their most redeeming quality, perhaps because it contrasts so greatly with modern society’s priorities. The special effects were as advanced as they get in today’s filmmaking, and Jones did a wonderful job of immersing followers and newcomers alike in his world. The fight scenes were also glorious. Finally, just enough background was touched on to add a layer of complexity without drowning viewers in lore.
Warcraft’s biggest loss was a contrived romance that was awkward at best and farfetched at worst. There were also certain characters that would have benefitted from a little more development; however, there may be potential for that in the sequels. Those looking for classic fantasy film depth and stimulation like that found in Lord of the Rings won’t be satisfied with Warcraft’s simple storyline. Those looking for an A-list cast might as well stick with Captain America: Civil War. Those looking for superb dialogue, well, why are you watching a fantasy film, anyway?
Warcraft: The Beginning has done what its genre has continuously failed to do: proven that video games can be adapted into successful and entertaining movies. It’s comparable to most summer blockbusters, and it’s worth watching those motion captured orcs come to life on the big screen if nothing else. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to become a level two elf.