Imagine you’re thirteen years old, and you’ve been playing World of Warcraft every day for the past eight months. Now imagine that you hear that there’s going to be a movie based on your favorite video games and it’s apparently being directed by Sam Raimi, who also directed the Spider-Man movies, some of your favorites. It’s supposed to come out in just a couple years, holiday 2009.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Raimi dropped out of the project, and Warcraft spent a significant amount of time in development hell. It got to the point where any time an ounce of news would come out about the movie, I and many others would meet it with skepticism. Duncan Jones signed on as director? Yeah, right. It’s coming out summer 2016? We’ll see.
All this lead up gave me a surreal feeling as I sat in a theater and watched Warcraft appear on the screen, followed by a live-action remake of one of the most famous cut-scenes from the video games. There’s a kind of indescribable joy in seeing something so nostalgic for me on the big screen. Many scenes of Warcraft are a surreal dream where you get to hang out with a bunch of celebrities and go on adventures with them. And those parts are great.
As many expected there are changes to the lore that some Warcraft lore fundamentalists may shake their fists about, but I found myself personally caring little about these changes.
The main problem with Warcraft is really that it just doesn’t do its source material justice. The conflict between orcs and humans in the Warcraft games is nuanced and full of moral gray areas. The movie boils it down — mostly — to a very simple good versus evil story, which would be fine, except it does this by simplifying interesting characters and making the human characters much more likable than they should be. (In the games, the humans are just as cruel to the orcs as the orcs are to them, if not even more.)
On the other hand, Warcraft lore is insanely convoluted. Orcs are aliens from another dimension/planet, being led by an evil warlock named Gul’Dan who frequently communicates with demons and uses demonic powers to literally drain the life out of people to create a portal so that the rest of the Orcs can come join them in their fight against the humans.
It’s a little ridiculous. So I don’t necessarily blame them for glossing over many of the lore’s finer, and often weirder, points. But some important aspects of the plot are barely explained, if at all. (Why some orcs are green and some are orange, why everyone seems to hate mages, how the half-orc Garona got in her position in the first place.) It’s hard for me to take the position of someone who knows nothing, but I can only assume this would be incredibly confusing for many average movie-goers.
The practical aspects of the movie do fine, but aren’t really anything that special. It looks appropriately like a video game, but does fall into the uncanny valley at times with its CGI. The actors also do a fine job, but really the only noteworthy performance is Ben Foster as Medivh. He hams it up in a particularly enjoyable and cheesy way, which also felt true to the source material.
The rumor is that a lot was cut from Warcraft. Like a lot. Possibly hours of footage. And this definitely shows. Many scenes end prematurely, cutting to the next scene after only a few lines or in the middle of a conversation. It’s off-putting and very easy to see where there was supposed to be more movie.
Warcraft is a movie made by fans, for fans. Director Duncan Jones is a self-proclaimed Warcraft geek, as are many of the lead actors. This comes through despite the film’s many flaws, and at the end of the day it’s just a fun trip, full of pointing at the screen and saying “I’ve been there!” and “I can see the Redridge Mountains in the background!” and “I hit level ten where they are right now!”
It’s exciting and fun and makes the movie worth it even if it isn’t incredible. Warcraft is still easily the best video game movie ever made. Not that that’s saying much, but hopefully it sets a positive precedent for other video game movies to follow. If you’re a long-time citizen of Azeroth, Warcraft is definitely worth a trip to the theater.
3 out of 5 Stars
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with a minor in creative writing. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver. Follow him on Twitter @SuperNerdJoel.