I will admit it. When I first heard Blizzard was going to make a movie about Warcraft I was skeptical. I mean, they have a great animation department, that could be pretty cool. But they said it would be a live-action movie. Those kinds of movies can go either way.
Medieval fantasy movies have come a long way since Dungeons & Dragons. Especially since Lord of the Rings raised the bar by about a million miles. Honestly, previous to LotR I don’t think anyone really took medieval fantasy movies very seriously. The technology and costuming expertise just wasn’t there yet to give the viewer a full suspension of belief. (Meaning that while you know the portals don’t exist, it looks real enough that you’re willing to suspend your belief in reality for the sake of entertainment.) Older movies that used the first baby CGI effects still couldn’t quite reach this point. Things didn’t look real enough and so they were not believable.
Despite that, you could still have a good movie. But you wouldn’t have a great movie.
This is where I feel that Warcraft falls. Good but not great.
Why? What happened? I spent two weeks mulling it over and I think I’ve narrowed it down to three things.
First, the movie doesn’t seem to have been targeting more than just Warcraft franchise fans.
This is the largest factor that hurt the movie overall. If you’re going to make a major movie and you want it to do well then it HAS TO STAND ON ITS OWN! It has to have it’s own plot that ties up nicely at the end. You can have some lose ends that lead to another movie or (in this case) a game or book. But you can’t leave huge open questions in the audience’s mind, regardless of who the audience is. They are there because they trust you to entertain them. They trust you to tell them a good story for the next couple hours. They don’t expect to come in and be told that only half the story is going to make sense because they didn’t play some game or read some book.
There were a lot of things in the movie that only fans would understand. The significance of Draka’s child is completely lost on anyone who doesn’t know about Thrall. And even then, if you didn’t read much of the lore and quests in the game, you might not have caught his significance. The movie kept trying to show that he is important but in the end they never give you a reason why. It’s just some cute angry baby that gets sent downstream in a basket Moses-style. The only thing an uninformed audience knows is that this kid is important because his dad was the only orc to stand up to Gul’dan and his naughtiness.
Making little assumptions like ‘only fans are going to see the movie’ prevented this movie from taking it to the next level. Not every Marvel fan out there has read the comics. They became fans when the movie convinced them to. Someone told them the movie was great, even if they didn’t know anything about superheroes. They went to see the movie and it proved to be awesome. Now they are fans. Blizzard could have tapped into that same dynamic but they did not.
Second- the CGI, while good, wasn’t quite up to par and still contained Blizzard’s trademark ‘larger-than life/cartoony’ style.
In order to sell a fantasy movie, you have to use a lot of CGI to create things that don’t exist. Magic and monsters mostly. When you mix CGI and reality you have to be very very careful because your viewers will see the difference.
Let’s look at the movie Avatar and compare some things with Warcraft. Both movies had fully CGI characters and fully real characters. But if you watch closely you’ll see that they don’t often put the two in the same frames together. They do that so your brain doesn’t start comparing reality to unreality. When your brain starts doing that, you lose the suspension of belief that’s so critical. Warcraft’s problem is that while they had most of the same elements as Avatar, they didn’t keep that crucial separation of real characters and CGI characters for the majority of the movie.
Two more issues I had with their CGI. Both are typically Blizzard problems too.
The first is that it looks like they created their orc male and orc female characters to the same scale as they do in the World of Warcraft game. That’s fine for the game but it didn’t work for me on the big screen. I found myself really distracted by just how huge Durotan was when compared to Draka. I can understand the females needing to be a little smaller because reasons, but holy crap! His hands were huge! How could anyone take a female orc warrior seriously in the Horde? Even if she wasn’t preggers, why did they bring her along?
Secondly, the whole movie retained a sort of ‘larger-than-life’, cartoony aspect that’s been prevelant in the Warcraft franchise since Warcraft II. Maybe Blizzard did that on purpose? Maybe they wanted to keep that slightly over-sized feel to invoke nostalgia in the viewers? Regardless of their reasons for that style though, I believe it was one of the reasons they ended up with a good movie instead of a great one.
Third- the story line, characters, and scenes were disjointed and confusing.
Take, for example, the opening scene of the human fighting the orc. I kept waiting for that scene to show up again and show me what it was about. It never did. That scene didn’t have anything to do with the story of the movie at all. So what was the point of it? It reminded me of the Warcraft 3 opening cinematic which made me expect more of the Legion (called the Fel in the movie) to show up. But nothing. Other than green, scary, bad magic, the Legion never poked their noses in.
Another example: The scenes kept rapidly changing from place to place to place and it didn’t seem like there was a good reason for it. One minute we are in Goldshire and the next we are in the dungeon of Stormwind but they both have the same mood and lighting so wait are we in the Inn again or the dungeon? Oh no wait we are back at the Dark Portal. But wait, is it the Dark Portal or is it the random forest where the humans were attacked and Medivh laid the smack down?
The characters were just as bad and ADD. What was up with Khadgar? Was he a part of the Kirin Tor or not? Did he want to work against the Fel or not? I think they were trying to portray him as the generally good guy who can’t turn his back on people when they really need him and he’s the only one who can help. The problem was,
Don’t get me started on Garona either. Of all the characters, she felt the most disjointed. None of her decisions made sense. There was no depth to her character. What were her motivations? Why was she chained up at the beginning? Why did she really decide to change sides?
How about King Llane? If the big, bad, ugly orc wanted to kill the King couldn’t there have been a formal one on one fight like with Lothar? Stall for time until the portal could be opened again or Lothar come to the rescue? I don’t believe a King would really have taken the coward’s way out (to save Garona from her people was a thin cover at best).
The point I’m trying to make here is that the characters and their stories were weak. It’s the characters that make a movie. It’s the characters that drive a good story and plot. It’s the characters that make the audience care about what’s happening. This was not a story driven by characters. It was characters driven and changed by the needs of the story. They fit the characters into whatever the story needed them to be. And that hurt the movie.
The landscape was disjointed, the story was disjointed, and the plot was disjointed, the characters were disjointed. It doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie, but it definitely held the movie back. I could have walked out of the movie going “THAT WAS AWESOME I’M GOING TO SEE IT AGAIN AND BRING MORE FRIENDS.”
Instead, I walked out just feeling like, “Yeah, it was okay.”
Despite it’s flaws it was still a good movie to go see. There’s plenty of action, a lot of cool magic effects, and tons of nostalgia everywhere you look. They even put a murloc in there and if you watch the river at the end you’ll see someone fishing. The bobber is exactly the same as it is in game. I’m giving this movie a 5 out of 10. It’s middle of the road. Not bad, not great, but good enough.
Do you agree or disagree? Have a different thought entirely? Let me know!