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Film Review: Warcraft

Warcraft poster

Warcraft Plot Summary:

The orc world of Draenor is dying. Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), a powerful orc commander, leads an army of warriors to Azeroth to claim it as their new world. The humans must unite to protect their home, while Durotan (Toby Kebbell), an orc chieftain, questions the motivations of their tyrannical leader.

Warcraft will go down as one of the most important films we see this year. It’s proof how lazy some film critics have become. A lot of the complaints I’ve read is that the film is incomprehensible. You need to know the game to understand it. Take it from someone who’s never played a second of Warcraft in his life – that criticism is absolute garbage. There used to be a time when critics eviscerated movies for treating their audience like idiots. Here, we finally get a film that doesn’t over explain itself. Unlike the trash that is Green Lantern or The Last Airbender where the exposition is endless, this movie drops us right into the fray. You actually have to pay attention and listen. Oh, the horror. Was it hard at the beginning? Sure, but I stuck with it, and completely grasped what this movie was all about. That’s not to say it’s flawless. There are plenty of problems, but this was a clear case of jaded film critics who prejudged a movie because it was based on a video game. They didn’t even try to understand it. We’ll get to the actual film now, but I had to get that off my chest.

Warcraft pic 1

The opening ten minutes of Warcraft is awe-inspiring. This is visually one of the greatest motion pictures I’ve ever seen. I have no clue when the orcs were make-up, CG, motion capture, but whatever, it all looked gorgeous. I felt instantly connected to Durotan and Draka (Anna Galvin), who were only concerned with protecting their unborn child while absolute chaos broke out. There’s a giant portal. The cinematography is insane. I kept thinking to myself, “people didn’t like this?!” Then we get to the human characters where fantasy films go to die.

While I was totally enthralled by the opening salvo, we quickly descend into bland land. Here are the humans. They have no personality. Everything is monotone. The dialogue is generic as hell. All fantasy movies suffer this fate. Even Lord of the Rings isn’t immune to this, and because the characters become so lifeless, it makes it harder to care about the plot. This is where Duncan Jones really shines as a director. He overcomes a weak script, keeping you engaged through the rough parts. As the movie went along, these characters actually start to develop. I even remembered their names, which is not easy to do in this genre.

The characters are pretty standard. We get the honorable king, Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper). The young, brash hero full of potential, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). The powerful Guardian, who’s played well by Ben Foster, although this is usually a role reserved for the Ian McKellens of the world. Then there’s standard hero #456 in Lothar, played by Travis Fimmel. All these actors do fine, but they are woefully underwritten. Khadgar was the most pathetic. They clearly wanted to make him a wise ass, but the attempts at humor and levity felt like they were scribbled on a napkin five minutes before filming started. Why does this always happen in fantasy? Do the characters always have to sound proper and boring? Take a page from Star Wars and inject some actual charisma into these people. I’m not saying it’s easy, but fantasy films always feel like they have to incorporate dialect as if it were a half assed Shakespeare production. It’s fantasy! Do what you want!

Warcraft pic 2

While the humans were hit or miss, the actual fantastical characters fared much better. Durotan is clearly the heart of the movie. Toby Kebbell has firmly planted himself as the #2 motion capture guy behind only Andy Serkis. The relationship between him and his wife, Draka, hits on all levels. Leave it to the orc marriage to be the most human part of the whole film. We also get Garona (Paula Patton), who holds much of the charisma that the human characters desperately lacked. She’s a feisty character, and a real wild card in the story playing both sides. The story shines brightest when it’s focused on the orcs wavering between their own kind, or doing what is right. Gul’dan is also a great villain, putting his selfish quest for power over the traditions of his own people, which always makes for a good adversary.

The biggest problem is the middle hour leaves a lot to be desired. It keeps you engaged just enough, but there’s a lot of yawning. The last half hour makes it all worthwhile. I was shocked at how much I was still invested in this story. This is why the majority of criticisms were frustrating to read. If you stick with it, you are greatly rewarded. The story beats really do come together. I even started to get into the human characters, in particular Foster’s Medivh, who’s motivations keep you guessing. The action also lives up to the visuals. These battles do not disappoint. The orcs are nasty and brutal. The only frustrating part about the end is that it takes the “We’re assuming we’ll be a franchise” route, offering an ending with very little closure.

Warcraft pic 3

Fantasy movies are impossible to pull off, especially one with a half-cocked script. The fact that Duncan Jones was able to take such dense, bloated material and turn it into a solid, efficient film speaks to how talented a director he is. Many directors would have shat the bed first day on set. While Warcraft holds many of the problems this genre usually carries, this is no doubt a cut above the rest. If this isn’t considered for a Best Visual Effects Oscar, then Academy members clearly didn’t see it based off of reputation. While you can feel the checks being cashed as you watch the film, every penny was well spent. If you want to dislike the film for being boring and having underwritten characters, I totally get it. If this film had another six months to iron out the script, it could have been something really special. To reject it because you came in with an attitude against video game movies is flat out wrong. You can say a lot about this movie, but not putting in an effort isn’t one of them. It’s maddening that an ambitious blockbuster like Warcraft gets critically destroyed, yet Furious 7 has a fresh rating.

That’s alarming.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen likes movies and bagels, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from writing Box Office predictions, Daniel hosts the monthly Batman by the Numbers Podcast on the Breakcast feed. Speaking of Batman, If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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