I've never played a minute of "World of Warcraft," but I have had several friends who became wildly immersed in the game in middle school all throughout high school. The game was on a particular rage at the time, and I can remember not being able to go anywhere without hearing people talk about it. It was a phenomenon and I am not sure its going anywhere anytime soon. So when it comes to watching this movie, I have no biases or baggage. I don't know much about the game, having not played it. So I don't have any real connection to it. While I haven't read any reviews, I have heard that the critical response hasn't been very good.
My reaction to the film is somewhere in the middle. There is a lot to like about "Warcraft." Once again, ILM showcases just how abundantly awesome digital affects work is becoming. The digital work used to create orcs, floating cities and magic is all quite impressive. There is an incredible cast that includes Travis Fimmel, Dominic Cooper, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Clancy Brown, Tobey Kebbell, Ruth Negga, and Robert Kazinsky all of whom throw themselves at the screen. If you are a Warcraft fan and you missed this one last weekend, I'd say definitely go. I think you'll be taken aback by the dreamlike visuals and the creation of a beloved land that you've been waiting to see unfold for countless years.
I'd also argue that you see the movie, because clearly you are the target audience. Much like "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" earlier this year, "Warcraft" is a movie that markets itself for everyone, but only made a movie for the small percent of a particular fandom. When it comes to making movies with a large mythology, I think its important to make create a simple story if you are going to introduce a massive mythology. I like how "Warcraft" slowly introduces things in this film, and they do a good job of creating a simple enough story. But eventually there is so much for audiences to juggle that the film feels overwhelming. Its strange how the film has a fairly easy-to-follow storyline, yet there are so many locations, so many details, so many characters and so many twists that it feels like the film looses itself. Fans of the game will already be in heaven as things start to unfold in the story line, but what most fandoms seemingly don't understand is that Hollywood doesn't make movies just for a fandom, they make them for everyone. If you alienate a good portion of your audience off the bat, you are automatically off to a bad start.
"Warcraft" also fails in structure as well, also much like "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice." "Warcraft" doesn't have an ending, its a story merely put on pause. There is no conclusion to any type of story here, the characters could have easily looked at the camera and said, "JOIN US NEXT TIME!" I am continually getting tired of seeing this in major franchise filmmaking, so much so that if it persists, I may stay away from blockbusters altogether. I am really being serious here. I can't stand it when movies skate by, not telling a complete story, expecting a sequel to explain everything later. I hate that franchise filmmaking has lent its hand to creating big television shows instead of actual movies. Because there is so much to juggle in this movie, I don't know if I care enough to follow these characters into another adventure. This movie did an uneven job of creating a foundation for a franchise, so why are they getting a free pass to make more movies? Maybe once Universal sees how this fumbled in American markets this passed weekend, they will rethink their plan, and how they make franchises in general. When "Star Wars" came out in 1977, there was no guarantee that there would be a sequel, so George Lucas told a complete story. "Lord of the Rings" may feel episodic, but that is intentionally by design. There are three books that make up "Lord of the Rings," Peter Jackson said he'd make three movies and three movies is what we got. I don't mind episodic storytelling in films, but each film needs to feel like a complete whole. I can't say this about "Warcraft."
What does work about the film? Well, the performances are great. I have loved Travis Fimmel from TV's "Vikings" and he doesn't disappoint here. I have also loved Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga for awhile and they dish out good performances. Ben Foster deserves special recognition for his work in this. He plays a Guardian, a person who is really great at magic, and taken Foster's usual style, he positively soars as this Guardian. As his character takes its twists and turns, he keeps with it and continually does good work. Tobey Kebbell plays Durotan, the lead Orc in this film, who has a crisis of conscience and turns away from the other Orcs' evil plan. Kebbell has had motion capture digital experience before playing Koba in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and he fits very well into the rhythms of this character in "Warcraft." He makes his character believable. There are some kick-ass fights throughout the movie, fights that I feel I'll be looking up on YouTube for many months to come, to look forward to that.
"Warcraft" is an interesting movie to look at in general. It features a world not grounded in realism like say "Game of Thrones" or even "Lord of the Rings." The world of "Warcraft" is colorful, stylized and exaggerated. I think fans of the game will appreciate this approach, but those who have been shrouded in realism thanks to HBO may not like the massive, artful canvass "Warcraft" offers.
Duncan Jones has made two of my favorite science fiction movies in recent years, "Moon" in 2009, and "Source Code" in 2011. I was curious more than anything about him diving into such a big, high-fantasy blockbuster. I think some of the usual Jones nods are on display here. But there is a authentic, corporate feel to much of "Warcraft." I don't necessarily think "Warcraft" is a good or a bad movie, its merely a frustratingly uneven movie. At times it feels like art that has come to life, and there is much to it that is wonderfully ambitious. But its screenplay makes its characters appear wooden, the story has a sloppy structure and a trending Hollywood feel. This is at least, a step in the right direction in adapting video games to movies, but its also an example of how far we still need to go.
FINAL GRADE: C+