Warcraft is a high fantasy movie seeking to adapt the story of the First War, I.E. The first Warcraft Game, to the big screen. Warts and all, it's a remarkably faithful adaptation of that story, showcasing the initial invasion via the Dark Portal, the battling back and forth between the Humans and Orcs, the betrayal of Medivh and of Gul'Dan, and what ends up being ultimately a victory on behalf of the Orcs over the Human Alliance of Stormwind. Now, if you're initially confused by all of those proper nouns don't worry – I'm going to assume you're intelligent enough to wait for an explanation, which is something apparently a lot of reviewers didn't do.
So, why am I doing this review? I'm not a movie reviewer, I'm a game reviewer, and an entertainer, but some folks were asking my opinion on the matter and I figured "What the hell? Gotta start somewhere". So, let's do introductions. I'm Senstaku, and in addition to being executive producer here at Final Show Films, I'm also a film junkie / student, writer, actor, gamer, and critical thinker – that last part's going to be the important one. I've been various roles in the performance industry for the past thirteen years, getting my start on stage and eventually starting my own company – Final Show Films. I tell you all of this, so you can relate to my perspective.
Now, Warcraft has received an interesting breakdown of reviewers. Looking at Metacritic, and noting that this is not -all- of the reviews, only the ones picked up by Metacritic, the Warcraft movie has received the following stats: From Critical Review sources, 3 positive, 17 mixed, 19 negative, with the three positive not coming out until after it's stateside release. On the flip side, User Reviewes, it's got 176 positive, 16 mixed, 6 negative. So, why the massive difference in opinion? Well, let's start with mine, and then we'll go on to tackle some of those critiques.
We'll do this the same way we do the Natch 20 Review and tackle tabletop games; First impressions: I thought it was a really good action movie. Note the language I said there; Action Movie. The story is a bit 'meh', but that's mostly because it's copying almost word for word with a few notable adaptations from the story of the original game; Blizzard, as much as I enjoy their work, have never been the best writers and it shows when their script is lifted from game to movie.
They rely heavily on genre tropes, exaggeration, and if you've seen one high fantasy story you've seen them all roughly. There are exceptions, of course – the intentional showcasing of both sides of the conflict is a fresh addition that Blizzard threw in, adding a morally grey area to the conflict rather than the classic "Humans good, non-humans bad" sentimentality other genre archetypes stick to. The story, while generic, is still tight and consistent – something that can be taken for granted in today's movie industry. The action scenes are good, the CGI is very good – I don't think anything ever made me think these people are actually just on a green screen throughout the film – and the music is standard, but top notch in that standardization – Like the very best cafe mocha you'll get at a chain coffee store.
Things I liked: Seeing Warcraft realized on the big screen would have been enough for most Warcraft fans, but I really appreciated the attention to detail direct Duncan Jones took in bringing this world to life; As you watch the film, it's very easy to believe that this is all part of a bigger, breathing, world that we're only getting to see a sliver of – that's important for me, I like to know that the world I'm seeing is inhabited, and exists outside of the narrow framework of the movie. Travis Fimmel, who plays Lothar, and Toby Kebbel, who plays Durotan, put in some fine work as actors – they sell their roles complety, and are very much 'into it'. With the exception of Lothar's son there really aren't any flat performances amongst the cast.
Things I disliked: This is not a perfect movie, I will never say that it is. The screenwriters took far fewer chances than they needed to, for fear of alienating the core Warcraft fans in the audience, while making needless changes that neither served or hindered the plot for no real reason. Robert Kazinsky's Orgrim Doomhammer in this film is a member of the Frostwolf Clan instead of, as he was in the games, the Blackrock clan. Now, functionally it doesn't matter which clan he's in for the purposes of the film, the actions can proceed the exact same way whether or not he is in one or the other, so the only purpose I can think of for this change is the assumption that the audience would get confused if he wasn't 'On the good guy's side', which shows a bit of contempt for the audience I haven't seen since some of the critical reviews of the movie itself.
So, let's move on to those reviews. As I said previously, the audience reviews are overwhelmingly positive while the critical reviews are overwhelmingly negative. So, I've taken a small sampling of these mixed to negative reviews and we're going to go over a few of their points. The three that I've chosen are Moviebob's Warcraft review, by Bob Chipman, which can be found at his website moviebob.blogspot.com, the New York Times' review by Manohla Dargis, which can be found on their website at www.nytimes.com, and the Indiewire review by David Ehrlich, which can be found at www.indiewire.com. Let's start with MovieBob.
Now, Bob is a longtime movie reviewer and someone whose opinion I respect, though I don't always agree with him. Let's see what he has to say about this. His review opens up with "...WARCRAFT is a colossal, monumental, staggering disaster" Having seen the movie, I'm not sure it warrants the hyperbole, but let's keep going. His first major bit of critisism – which comes four paragraphs into his review, is "The characters are so arch the actors can’t move around inside them." - So, what does he mean by 'characteres are so arch'? Well, I'm assuming he's meaning archetypal because the word arch in this phrasing doesn't actually mean anything for film. He's saying that the characters are basically standing archetypes of 'The good king', the 'renegade knight', the 'bumbling wizard', the 'all-powerful evil wizard', etc. And to a certain extent he's correct.
In addition to Lothar, the Commander of Stormwind's army, and Durotan the Frostwolf chieften, we have Ben Foster's Medivh, the Guardian of Tirisfall – I.E. The Guardian of the World, Ben Schnetzer's Khadgar, a mage who was to replace the Guardian at one point but forsook his oaths and fled, Dominic Cooper's Llane Wrynn, the Goodly King of Stormwind who really just wants everyone to work together, Daniel Wu's Gul'dan, the evil warlock corrupting the Orcish forces with Fel magic, Clancy Brown's Blackhand, the Warchief of the Horde and Gul'dan's effective puppet, and Paula Patton's Garona, a half-orc who serves as a pet for Gul'dan, then escapes, and serves as an informant / ally for the Humans through most of the movie.
Many of these characters fill an archetypal role; The goodly king, etc. Etc., and I don't see that as a bad thing. Warcraft isn't trying to say anything new or insightful; Even the 'both sides aren't necessarily evil' hook of the original game isn't a new concept, it's simply trying to tell these concepts in an entertaining manner – which, to my mind, it succeeds at doing. Archetypal characters are an easy way to shorthand details about their personality to the audience, giving more time to the film than it would have had if they needed to extensively flesh out the backstory of each and every one of these characters. In fact, making the film easier to digest. Also, as this is an adaptation I'm obliged to point out that these characters have always been archetypal, for that very purpose. You know who else is an Archetypal character? Mad Max. He's the Lone Wanderer archetype, someone who comes from nothing and heads to nothing, while helping out other people who have a more extensive backstory along the way. I noticed nobody complaining about that with Fury Road.
Moving on, Moviebob's next big criticism is about the plot itself. "WARCRAFT is, technically, a video-game adaptation… except somebody decided that instead of adapting a story from the games or even setting a new story in the world of the games, the place to start was retelling in pedantic BEAUTIFUL MIND-level detail - the setup of the original game" Start of the original game was as the Orcs came through the Dark Portal and began attacking humans. The first half an hour of the movie takes place before that. The remaining 93 minutes covers the entire first game. I'm not sure why setting up the story to follow is a bad thing, but's he's technically correct in that it starts there.
So, there are other aspects of Moviebob's review that I'd like to tackle but as I said earlier I have a couple of these to go through so let's move on to the Indiewire review real quick. "Warcraft is a once-in-a-generation disaster" – Really? We're doing this again? Let's skip forward a bit, see if there's material I haven't already covered.
Ok, five paragraphs of hyperbolic put downs and a hasty telling of the history of the film itself in, and we find this juicy critique: "Orcs, for those unfamiliar with the videogame franchise, are a species of steroidal homunculi warriors who live by a savage code that seems incongruous with their posh British accents." First, homunculi is 'a very small human or humanoid creature' – Nothing about the Orcs is very small. They are humanoid, but they're a good two feet taller and broader than any human in the film. If you're going to use fancy words in your review, at least know what they mean. Secondly, none of them had British accents. At least, they didn't in the version I saw – maybe this guy saw a poorly dubbed release? They had gruff baseline Americana or Native American voices, if you're being racist.
"The orcs are a supposedly smart species, but they have yet to invent t-shirts nor can they seem to figure out why every world they inhabit seems to start dying after their obviously evil wizard leader", ok, this guy seems to be writing the review entirely to take the piss out of the movie, rather than to review. It's given away by the language; Being pedantic and referencing a lack of t-shirts in a fantasy movie, as if T-shirts are the epitome of intellectual thought, and missing basic facts of the movie – For instance, he says that Lothar frees Garona from Gul'Dan when it's actually Durotan who does, which the movie states out loud twice, and shows quite clearly happening. I'm not sure how he mistook the giant Orc for the lithe human.
Moving on to the New York Times review – "Probably the best way to experience "Warcraft"... is stoned." Oh come on!
Seriously, reviewers, I understand you all went to school for writing and know that the key to a good opening paragraph is to 'hook' your audience in with a powerful statement, and sure, opening with 'this is garbage trash garbage' certainly seems like a strong statement, but it also immediately explains your stance while removing all potential context and reasoning from your argument, being combative from the get-go and turning off a swath of potential readers. Don't do that.
Anyways, the NYTimes review at least has criticisms by the fourth paragraph. "“Warcraft” is such an obvious bid at brand expansion, which may be why no one bothered with an intelligible story." Now, this is a bit of criticism I have seen previously and as I watched the movie I struggled to put paid to the thought. Was this story unintelligible? I understood it perfectly fine, but I also already knew the story so I asked my friend Pooky, who was with us when we saw it, if she understood it – She didn't know the story going in, she's only ever played the tabletop RPG Warcraft not the games – and she was able to follow it cleanly through. The story isn't so complex as to get lost in it – Orcs are invading, humans don't want it, they fight, they lose, Orcs continue invading. The character drama involved is a bit more complex, but never so much so that I or Pooky got lost.
Which actually brings me back to Moviebob's review to close this out – In the middle of his review, Bob says this: "it’s still pretty astonishing to realize that once the movie is done introducing every location, race, faction, region, sect etc that someone seriously thought we needed two full hours to understand a plot that boils down to: “The Green Stuff Is Bad.”" - To start off with, I think this is the worst thing any critic can ever do to any movie – To be so deconstructive as to reduce the story of a movie to a phrase. The reason I think it's the worst thing you can do as a critic, is because it's something you can do with ANYTHING and it means just as much elsewhere.
I can easily say the message Captain America: Civil War says is "Good guys sometimes have to break the law". It's technically true, but no less disingenuous. Or to take Fury Road and say "Max drives across the desert and then drives back." Also technically true, but bullshit if you've seen Fury Road.
In the end, I felt the movie was decent – Not spectacular, not groundbreaking, but way the hell better than a 'monumental disaster'. If you are a fan of Warcraft, you'll enjoy it. If you're not, you'll probably still be able to have a good time. The IMDB page for Warcraft has a 7.8/10 from 47,779 users at time of writing, which is pretty much what I'd give it if I were to give it a numerical score. It's not the best movie out there, but it is the best video game movie I've ever seen.
The major takeaway for this, though, is that if you want to see more Video Game movies made with love from the people that love the games they're based on, go support this movie. Tell people about it, and go see it yourself, because the only thing Hollywood producers listen to is the Box office numbers. If it sells well, the trend will follow. If it doesn't, it'll crash and burn, or get handed off to Uwe Boll and we'll never get it back.