A father and chieftain doing the best for his people, a General and King doing their best to keep their kingdom safe, a Guardian with great secrets and an evil Warlock bent on conquering Azeroth, what do all these things mean? Warcraft!
Director: Duncan Jones
Studio: Legendary Pictures
Release: 30 May 2016 (UK)
I went to see the Warcraft film with a bit of trepidation. I expressed my fears for the film last week, how I hoped it didn’t stick too faithfully or too seriously to its source material that it wouldn’t be accessible to newcomers to the franchise. I hoped against all hope that it wouldn’t be a film that only fans could like and that it might finally buck the trend of bad Video Game Film adaptations.
And you know what? The universe finally threw me a bone, and this movie is actually damn good!
The plot of the film, for those of us versed in Warcraft lore, takes place during the first incursion of the Orcish Horde into Azeroth, brought to the world via the Fel magics of Gul’Dan, the Orcish Warlock. They seek to invade Azeroth to claim a new world for them, as their own is but a barren wasteland. The moment they come through the Horde sets out to conquer and kill everything, expanding their territory and threatening the peace of the Kingdom of Azeroth aka Stormwind. As King Llane and Anduin Lothar deal with the threat, the runaway mage Khadgar brings the presence of Fel magic to their attention and urges them to call on the Guardian, Medivh.
On the Orcs’ side, the leader of the Frostwolf clan, Durotan, joins Gul’Dan’s Horde to keep his people safe and give them a chance at a new life, particularly his newborn son. But as he sees the methods Gul’Dan employs, particularly the wicked Fel magic, he begins to harbour doubts and decides they must do something before the Warlock does to this world what he did to theirs.
That is the overall story and it plays out perfectly, giving the major players enough screen time not only to make them memorable but to also transmit their different personalities and ideals to the audience. It is certainly a busy film with a very fast pace, but its narrative is good enough that you never feel like they rushed something, or shoehorned something in. And that’s particularly impressive because they’re cramming a few years’ worth of history in a single film.
But what makes the story great is not the conflict between these two races or the moments of glory in battle, but the personal stories littered throughout the film. Some people may feel that the subplot with Lothar’s son is pointless but it’s meant to humanise the great warrior, to let us know that under the bulky armour, he’s a father and a caring one at that. The same can be said about Durotan, whose main drive is a fatherly love for his people. As Garona puts it, he’s beloved and trusted by his clan, not feared.
Garona’s part in the plot is to be the bridge between the races, to make it possible for Orcs and Humans to talk, and to let us know, through her actions and thoughts, how different the two cultures are, and how similar some of their ideals can be. Some people complain about her makeup and the small tusks, but they’re looking in the wrong place. What makes Paula Patton’s portrayal of Garona so good is her eyes and her expressions. They tell a story better than her words do, and in the tender moments between her and Medivh and Lothar, you feel so much for her. One of the last scenes in the film, where she makes a certain choice, is perhaps the most emotional scene in the entire movie, with a particular Lothar scene coming close in second.
Having said so, the film attempts to form a relationship between Lothar and Garona and while I like this one a lot more than I did the strange relationship she had with Medivh in the lore—which ended in the conception of Med’an, Warcraft’s biggest dirty secret—as it feels more natural, it is quite forced here and they reach the earliest stage of a relationship too easily and too early. It gives them both something to care about and to lose, but there isn’t enough screen time for it to feel completely natural.
What I love about the film’s story the most though is that it doesn’t have a happy ending. In some ways, it’s a kick-in-the-pants kind of ending, with things worse than when it all began. But that just sets the stage for what is to come!
The performances are top of the line, particularly those of the Orcs and Medivh. The Guardian, in his long brown hair and flowing beard, covered in brown robes has a wonderful Christian imagery that helps drive the point that this man is viewed as a protector and saviour, so when he does something “out of character,” it has a greater impact. Having said so, some of the plot elements regarding him are a bit predictable, even for non-fans. Travis Fimmel, who we’re used to see as the often cold and detached Ragnar Lothbrook in Vikings, the very personification of barely controlled anger plays a much more human and sensitive Anduin Lothar, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and puts his son’s safety above everything else. It’s good to see that Fimmel is capable of more than just a single character.
But that’s where Warcraft’s greatest strength lies, in that non-fans can enjoy it. Warcraft introduces its world and concept in the perfect way: by not telling too much and keeping things simple. They mention Fel energy and how it feeds on life and exacts a terrible price on its wielder, but that’s about it. Medivh’s “condition” gets another mention and that’s it. The Mak’Gora, a duel for Orcs and a sacred tradition, gets two mentions and the meaning of it is clear without them ever having to explain a single thing. Warcraft lets the locations, the actions of its characters and the evolution of the story tell all the exposition they need. There aren’t lengthy scenes with monologues, because they don’t need it to make the film work. There are even Draenei in the movie and no one makes a point about them, and they don’t need to, because they’re not relevant. It’s an adaptation, so it changes things to fit its media and new audience and it works great.
New audiences will enjoy it but fans will get an extra kick with the dozens of tiny references hidden in the film. A particular one is the presence of some of the other Chieftains of the horde. Grommash features a few times in the film, even though he doesn’t speak a single line and even Kargath Bladefist makes an appearance. In Kharazan we see Moroes and even a golem reminiscent to those found in the raid. I mentioned Draenei, so fans will know about those instantly. And in the last scene, to mention another hidden Easter Egg for fans, you can see all three Bronzebeard brothers sitting together: Magni, Muradin and Brann.
But while the wars, death magic and paternal hardships might make you think this is a glum and gritty film, it’s far from the truth. Warcraft embraces the silliness of its source material with plenty of lighthearted moments between characters that make the sad ones much more powerful. When they first ride out of Stormwind, the army passes over a bridge and in the water is a small angry gurgling Murloc trying to fish. Durotan and Draka joke around as a couple at the start of the film. Orgrim Doomhammer and Durotan share some funny moments and even Garona brings some lightheartedness to the proceedings when she claims Khadgar wouldn’t make a suitable mate for her, much to his embarrassment. The first scene with Lothar, in Ironforge has the Dwarven King refer to a gun as a Boomstick, something that made me laugh a lot.
The Humans in Waracraft have impossibly bulky armours and impractical swords with golden guards, and the film plays it straight with them, with characters fighting nimbly while being walking tanks. It’s ridiculous to see but it just works great. The only thing the film plays seriously is its bad guys. Blackhand and Gul’Dan are vicious and have no sense of humour whatsoever, which is good. You need intimidating villains and those two are perfect at it.
Visually Warcraft is astonishing and there have never been CGI characters more lifelike than the Orcs. You can even see their eyes watering, their trails of tears on their cheeks and so many details that made them feel real and thus much more relatable. The ‘creature’ CGI has some weak spots, particularly the giant wolves used by the orcs but the griffon used by Lothar does look quite realistic. I said it on Twitter when I first came out of the cinema: from now on, if CGI in a film doesn’t at least get to this level of awesomeness, I’m calling it crap. This sets the bar to a new height. You know it’s special when they make the magic feel real and reasonable.
I could listen to the soundtrack of Warcraft all day and in many ways it reminded me of raiding with my guild, tons of amazing pieces carefully crafted to match the scenes and the mood perfectly. When the credits rolled, the Login Screen music for World of Warcraft played and I audibly said in the cinema “Hell Yes!” much to everyone’s surprise. It’s a wonderful soundtrack.
Warcaft isn’t just a good film for fans of Blizzard Entertainment’s series, but a fantastic fantasy film on its own right. It works for newcomers and fans alike and sets the bar very high for CGI. I’m now excited for the future of this new franchise, this new alternate telling of the story. I hope the Clerics of Northshire make it to the next film, as well as the creation of the Paladins of the Silver Hand!
4.5/5 – AMAZING