I feel like I should preface this review by stating that I have never played Warcraft/World of Warcraft in my life. My only exposure to Warcraft prior to this film has been watching some Let’s Plays of World of Warcraft, playing some Hearthstone and watching the South Park episode Make Love, Not Warcraft. However, despite my lack of knowledge about Warcraft, I was looking forward to this film, mainly because of the involvement of Duncan Jones. After how brilliant Moon and Source Code were, I was excited for the next project Jones would do, which just so happened to be the adaptation of Warcraft into film. However, the film has been slated by critics, lessening my excitement a little bit but, after watching the film, I don’t agree with the consensus, I had a lot of fun watching this film.
The plot of the film concerns the formation of the Orc army, the Horde, led by the mage Guldan, who travel from their dying world to the world of Azeroth, hoping to use the life force of the people of Azeroth to power a portal to bring all the Orcs to Azeroth using the dark magic known as the Fel. However, they are met with resistance from the humans, mainly the military commander of the kingdom of Stormwind, Anduin Lothar, his king Llane Wrynn and the mage Khadgar, later joined by the half Orc Garona, who switches sides from the Orcs. They also receive some help from one of the Orc chieftain’s Durotan, who wishes to work with the humans to stop Guldan, fearing that Guldan’s use of the Fel magic will cause the same destruction in Azeroth that plagued the Orc home world. Now the plot is a bit convoluted, I’ve not mentioned all the other mages and factions at play throughout the film, but the film works in building a world and in establishing clear motivation for the characters, mainly Durotan. We get to see how the growing war between the humans and orcs affects each side and how participants on both sides change their allegiances and feel their duty and their honour are in conflict with each other. The cultures created in the film are interesting, particularly the orc culture, although the cultures of Azeroth could have done with a bit more development to make them easier to understand, and I also feel the whole plot point about the fractured nature of alliances in Azeroth and how self serving some of them are could have been focused on a lot more, particularly to make the ending of the film feel more impactful. There is also the problem of some of the characters disappearing for long stretches of the film, limiting the chance for character development, some of the characters who could have done with more screentime end up vanishing for long periods, this being especially true of individual orcs outside of Durotan, especially Ogrim Doomhammer. However, the moral complexity for the main characters and the strong world, combined with how entertaining the whole film is, made it work for me.
The performances in the film are pretty strong throughout. For me, the highlight is Toby Kebbell as Durotan, who brilliantly shows the concern and fear he has for his family and friends, the feelings of duty he has for the Orc culture and his feelings of distrust towards Guldan, this is a performance that could have fallen apart, taking the film with it but Kebbell handles it brilliantly, adding a quiet strength to the character that lifts the film up. Great performances are also seen from Paula Patton as Garona, whose growing ties towards the humans create some great moral complexity for the character later on in the film and shows the potential for peace to form between the humans and orcs (to say why would be spoiling the film), Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar, who brilliantly shows the inexperience and fear the character has that led him to abandon his original duties as a mage but also great intelligence and strength, and Ben Foster as Medivh, the Guardian of Tirisfal whose duty it is to protect Azeroth, showing a great deal of mystery to the character, along with a dignified quality that shows you why he became so respected, along with some doubts over his abilities, although to say more about it would be to spoil the film. There are also entertaining performances from Travis Fimmel as Anduin, although his character doesn’t get much development until the end, and Dominic Cooper as King Llane, who does a good job showing how utterly stumped he is in trying to stop the orcs and showing his concern towards the citizens of Azeroth, whilst Daniel Wu makes for a brilliantly intimidating villain with Guldan, effectively showing the contrast between Guldan and the rest of the orc culture. There are characters and performances that I wish had more time to develop though, mainly Robert Kazinsky as Ogrim Doomhammer and Anna Galvin as Draka, their roles in the film could have provided some great character development for Durotan and themselves, helping to flesh out the world for them, but it feels like some of their scenes were cut out. This is also the case for Ruth Negga as Taria Wynn, the King’s wife (who is shown to have good skills in diplomacy and leadership, particularly in her interactions with Garona, which deserved some more time to expand) and Clancy Brown as Warchief for the Horde, Blackhand, which could have been a better show for the power of Guldan and how he rules the orcs effectively, along with showing the power of Fel, which does happen in the film, but not nearly as well as it could have been if given more time.
On a technical level the film is very impressive. Duncan Jones directs the action scenes brilliantly, the cinematography and the effects to create the world are impressive, the costume design and make-up work is very impressive and I loved the way magic was presented in the film, particularly near the end of the film. The best feat of technical acumen in the film though comes with the orcs. The CG used to create them has real weight to it, every punch thrown by the orcs having a lot of power behind them, the motion capture performances add a lot of character to each of the orcs, little details in their movements and armour creating friendships and relationships better than any dialogue could, which is good as, at some points, the modulation used on the voices makes the dialogue hard to understand. The designs of the orcs also help with the plot, mainly in showing both the power and the vulnerability that the orcs have as a result of the Fel (at one point, Medivh kills all the orcs infused with Fel, leaving those not infused with it, such as Durotan and Ogrim alive).
Overall, whilst I understand why others would not enjoy the film, I had a lot of fun with Warcraft and don’t think it deserves the comparisons to Battlefield Earth it’s been getting. Sure the plot is convoluted and some of the characters could do with more development but the world and cultures created are very intriguing, the action scenes are very well directed and filled with a great level of excitement and there are some great performances for strong characters, particularly Toby Kebbell as Durotan. It’s not perfect, but I had fun with it after accepting the world and I do consider it to be the best video game adaptation that has been made so far.
My Rating: 4/5