Also known as Warcraft: The Beginning, this film based on Blizzard’s phenomenally popular MMORPG which used to be an RTS series is extremely pretty but suffers from an incoherent plot and an uncontrolled urge to be spectacular at the expense of just about everything else.

Cast and Crew

Travis Fimmel as Anduin Lothar
Paula Patton as Garona
Ben Foster as Medivh
Dominic Cooper as Llane Wrynn
Toby Kebbell as Durotan
Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar
Robert Kazinksy as Orgrim
Clancy Brown as Blackhand
Daniel Wu as Gul’dan
Ruth Negga as Lady Taria
Anna Galvin as Draka
Callum Keith Rennie as Moroes
Burkely Duffield as Callan
Ryan Robbins as Karos
Dean Redman as Varis

Story by Chris Metzen
Screenplay by Duncan Jones and Charles Leavitt
Directed by Duncan Jones

Premise

The Orc’s world Draenor is dying. The mage Gul’dan uses the life energy of Draenei captives to open a portal for a warband to cross into Azeroth. Once there, he intends to capture large numbers of the natives and use their life energy to open the portal again to bring the entire Orc Horde across to their new homeworld. One of the warchiefs within this advance party, Durotan, begins to have doubts about the use of such magic – called the Fel – and the price it demands.

In Azeroth, a young mage called Khadgar is found examining the bodies of some villagers killed in an Orc raid. He discovers that they were killed by the Fel, and insists that the King summon the Guardian, Medivh, as his power will be needed to counteract such terrible magic. Lothar and Medivh lead a party to investigate these invaders and find out more about them, but they are attacked and only escape when Medivh manages to turn the Fel against the Orcs. They are able to capture a half-Orc woman, Garona, who helps them start to understand the terrible threat that faces all of Azeroth and what they’re going to have to do in order to stop it.

High Points

  • Lothar’s fight with Blackhand
  • Computer-generated scenery porn, delivered regularly
  • Griffin vs Orcs is an awesome bit of pure-CG glory

Low Points

  • The Alliance council scene is people being self-interestedly arrogant according to all the clichés you’ve ever read or seen on screen, presumably to make sure the humans are in sufficient peril but really it just makes them look like entitled idiots
  • Lots of scenes cut away too early, you want to find out what is going to happen but you can’t because it won’t show you. As the film progresses, it starts to feel like that’s the only way they could think of to maintain any sense of tension
  • Garona gets saved in battle twice, very conspicuously, by men. She’s seen doing her fair share of killing, but then becomes the damsel in distress at random moments for no apparent reason
  • Everyone just forgets about a certain antagonist still being around, presumably because they’re under orders to leave him for the inevitable sequel
  • The final scene is made largely from cheese and overused tropes
  • Medivh’s character origins and development are criminally neglected throughout the film

The Scores

Originality: I don’t know how much of this story comes directly from the backstory of World of Warcraft, as I’ve never seriously played anything since WarCraft III. Thus I’m going to judge it based on that of a casual observer of the Warcraft universe. There are some interesting ideas here, and it does put a bit more nuance than usual on the idea of invaders from another world, especially as the plot develops. It doesn’t follow through very well, but that’s something to deduct from another score. 4/6.

The effects are mostly exceedingly good. The various cities and locations are rendered beautifully, and they feel like the locations in the games. The Orcs themselves are CGI creations of great detail and effectiveness, although they occasionally betray themselves in that slightly weightless lack of physicality we have become so used to seeing in modern films. The biggest problem with the effects it that they tend towards excessive spectacle on numerous occasions, and this is where they usually break down. Smaller-scale magic looks amazing, but some of Medivh’s larger works degenerate to looking too fake, possibly because of their sheer implausibility. 5/6.

The story is an incoherent mess. There’s no other way to put it. I suspect a number of other scenes would be required to fully explain what’s going on here, and I’m sad that they weren’t included, even though the film is quite long enough as it is. Since it’s clearly meant to be the first part of a series the story doesn’t even finish properly, and the conclusion such as it is makes little sense even given what comes before it. I think there is a good story in here somewhere about Medivh and Gul’dan and the nature of the Fel, but I’m sad that it wasn’t given a chance to be told properly. I’m also sad that the triumphant final scene is about as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. 2/6.

The acting comes up short largely because the script is pretty poor. These may be a supremely talented cast, but by and large they don’t manage to get much out of a script which leaves them little room for proper expression before it whisks us away to another scene. What the actors do almost universally well is their interactions with the large number of things which wouldn’t have been there when they were filming, especially the Orcs in their performance capture rigs. 4/6.

The emotional response is weak. As the film developed (and more importantly failed to develop) I became more and more indifferent to everything going on in front of me and started wondering when it would end so I could go and eat some chocolate or something. 2/6.

The production delivers visual spectacle, the feel of Warcraft and the chaos of battle extremely well. Sadly it backs this up with distinctly uninspired music and some very jumpy, slightly uncomfortable editing. 3/6.

Overall, this film could have been good, but it isn’t. 1/6.

Warcraft receives a total score of twenty-one out of forty-two.

What They Left Out

Spoilers be here!

Honest.

You’ve been warned.

 

So the thing that the plot really starts to turn upon is Khadgar’s discovery that someone must have helped the Orcs open the portal from the Azeroth side, and the subsequent discovery that this mysterious helper was Medivh, possessed by the Fel. Medivh claims that he’s sorry, but he can’t remember what he’s done while under the Fel’s power, but we have absolutely no clue at any point as to how he came to be infected by it, what it really is, and later on why Khadgar was strong enough to resist it. There’s a bit of waffle from Khadgar’s conversation with Alodi, but that was seriously lacking in anything substantial.

Sadly I think this information is vital to understanding what is left of the plot in the film as shown. Medivh as fully possessed by the Fel is described as a “demon” in one line, and certainly looks like a demon, but what is a demon in the Warcraft world? Why would a demonic force want to bring the Orcs to Azeroth?

Why doesn’t anybody seem to be interested in these questions? I appreciate they have surviving to do, but they don’t even want to stop and think about it afterwards.

The film I would have liked to see would involve Medivh encountering the Fel and slowly succumbing to it as even he remains unaware of what’s happening, then trying desperately to do something about it before it takes him over completely. There are hints of this throughout the film, but too much is left unsaid and unspoken and unexplored, and in the end I don’t really understand how the middle of the film really hangs together, let alone the extremely odd things which happen at the end.

I understand that there is a substantial amount of content which was cut before release. This might not have helped, but then again it’s possible it explores exactly the things I think are lacking, and therefore I’m going to hope that an extended Blu-ray release is on the cards so that we can find out one day.