I was excited for “Warcraft” for two reasons. One, I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre in all forms of media and I feel like outside “The Hobbit” we haven’t had many big budget (and well done) fantasy films recently (instead we get movies like “Seventh Son”). Second, I am tired of underfunded and generic video game movies and “Warcraft” looked anything but that. I had also thought this could be the movie to break the video game movie curse. The curse is so strong that we don’t even have an exception to the rule, all movies based off video games suck (there is no exception). “Warcraft” even had a rising director attached to it, Duncan Jones (of “Moon” and “Source Code” fame). So there were many reasons to look forward to this and was pretty high on my most anticipated films of the year. Is this the video game based movie to break the video game curse?
If the video game curse is the work of a demon and “Warcraft” is a priest, then this is the exorcism that was almost able to drive the demon out. Unfortunately “Warcraft” while entertaining with a very intriguing world set up (that does make me want to see sequels) the movie’s horrendous pacing and sometimes badly executed storytelling keeps the film from being able to break the video game movie curse (but it’s the closest thing we have gotten so far).
To be clear from the very start, there is a lot to like here in this movie. I think fans of the “Warcraft” series will be ecstatic to see their beloved property treated with such respect and earnestness. To be completely upfront with everyone out there in internet land I have never played a single minute of the original RTS (real time strategy for non gamers) “Warcraft” or the world wide phenomenon “World of Warcraft”. So, I can’t speak too much to how much of the story has been taken from the games. I can only give you my impressions and how I felt watching this as a standalone movie; as an outsider to the fandom (which I rarely am).
My impression of the movie is director Duncan Jones is clearly a massive fan of the game. Jones spends an incredible amount of time world building in this movie with lore, mythology, politics, and a feeling of reality. Jones wants this place to feel real. The place “Warcraft” takes place in is the land of Azeroth. Where orcs transport to after going through a portal from another realm after their world is nearly destroyed. As they enter the world the orcs quickly encounter Mankind and goes to war with them over their land. Within the first minutes of the movie Jones is able to lock you into this conflict and more importantly this universe. Azeroth is the biggest star of the movie, more so than any of the characters or the actual story. You’ll want to spend most of your time learning more about Azeroth because it’s clear there are many layers to unravel.
The trouble though with the vast mythology is that it’s very easy to get lost if you’ve never played the game. I could follow it along well enough but many elements and ideas don’t feel developed enough or will leave you scratching your head. It is refreshing though to see a movie that doesn’t feel the need to hold the viewers hands and explain everything. However that’s not my issue here. I don’t need everything explained to me; I would like however for ideas to feel concrete and well thought out. For instance there is a type of magic that corrupts those who uses it called the Fel. And, it feels like it’s just briefly mentioned in passing and then all of a sudden it’s a major plot device and plays a key role in the movie. I get what it does, but for a story it feels random, underdeveloped and out of place. There a number of moments like that.
The real issue with this movie is the horrible pacing of the film. The first third of the movie is quickly jumping from place to place trying to get the entire plot moving. It’s too fast and rushes the development of the characters and the lore. This becomes a recurring problem of the movie. You’re never given enough time to enjoy the visuals or be wowed by something. And big characters moments feel lost in translation because the movie didn’t slow down at the right parts so they could develop them. Some in the movie get better treatment than others by the editor which is a shame because all the potential is right there in front of you while you’re watching it. There are some bad transitions as if there are entire sections cut out of the movie for whatever reason.
The main thing that works here in the movie (aside from the intriguing world) is the performance of Toby Kebbell as the Orc Chieftain Durotan. Not all the visuals work, not all the characters work, not all the actors work, but the exception is Kebbell’s motion capture performance. The huge bulking Orc looks and feels like a real character. He has the most interesting arc in the movie.
Duncan Jones does impress though with his thrilling battle sequences. Partway through the first third of the movie it started to feel like there was too much for Jones to handle. But, once we settled into the meat of the story Jones seems to have found more of his groove to deliver an entertaining adventure. Despite being a PG-13 film there is a brutality to the fight scenes with bones crushing and every hit from the mightily impressive Orcs could be felt as a viewer. There are real stakes with several unexpected deaths that is nice to see in a genre that typically finds a way to get most of the characters to survive until at least the final entry.
There is a rumor I read that there might have been as much as 40 minutes cut out from the original running time of the movie. If this true than perhaps those extra 40 minutes would really help flesh out the movie’s crammed narrative. There is a complexity in the script that’s trying to balance with a large number of characters, lore, betrayals, and character pieces. But, the movie doesn’t feel like it has the room for. Would 40 minutes make the movie perfect? No, but it might make an okay movie with some good in it into a good movie with only a few problems. If that rumor isn’t true and this was the original running time…well then I wish was an extra 40 minutes. Because, if there was ever a movie that needed to be longer it was this one. I was hoping this would be the movie to break the video game movie curse and at times it felt like it was (or at least) could have been. Now that hope rests with “Assassins Creed” coming out later this year. I still say see this movie because there is a lot to like and I think there is still a lot of potential in a sequel with Duncan Jones at the helm (and a longer running time).