I’m a big Warcraft fan, and have been since the first one came out in the mid-90s. I played vanilla World of Warcraft when it first came out, and played it so much my girlfriend gave me that cliched ultimatum… though she later soften up on that stance when she bought me the Burning Crusade expansion pack.
So imagine my excitement when they announced the Warcraft movie. Then imagine my concern when the reviews started coming out and it currently has a Metacritic rating lower than Batman v Superman. Now that I’ve seen it, here are some quick thoughts.
Easily the best part of the film was the orcs. These guys look every bit like the orcs we’ve loved and feared in the games. You know how the movie Transformers don’t look like the Transformers from your childhood, and how the new Ninja Turtles don’t look like the Turtles that you remember? Well, Michael Bay had nothing to do with the orcs in this movie, so they look exactly the way you’ll remember them… but real. Really really real.
An early scene features Durotan and Draka in their tent, talking about their unborn child. It was pretty much at this point that you stopped perceiving them as gigantic CGI constructs, and just accepted them as characters. The facial expressions, the way they breathed and moved, it was just so natural that in many ways they felt a lot more human than some of the actual human characters in the movie (who were held back by a lackluster script – more about this later). They had the most expressive eyes, and then I noticed Durotan always does this thing with his tongue when agitated, and these little details really sold the orcs as living creatures. This particular scene was really an eye-opener as to what the VFX wizards at ILM can do now, and has really raised the bar on mo-cap and facial animation.
Moving along the movie, you’ll really be able to tell the orcs apart. And it’s not just their armor or that this orc is bald while another has giant tusks, it’s their faces, their nuances, and their movement. Ogrim is entirely different from Durotan, and Gul’dan is nothing like these two. Fans will also recognize Grom Hellscream and Kargath Bladefist, and their unnamed and background inclusions just makes the whole orc experience so authentic and real. It felt like a reunion.
Azeroth’s environments and designs
The look and feel of Azeroth has been carefully preserved throughout the games, from the 2D sprites of Warcraft 1 and 2 to the 3D graphics of 3 and WoW. Little details like the way Orcish towers have that curved spikey feel with those red roofs or the way human swords look haven’t changed much from the beginning.
In making the jump to the big screen, the rich history and visual identity has been carefully preserved. I was awestruck by Stormwind and I couldn’t get over how immense the Dark Gate looked.
Everything from Medivh’s feathery crow robes to the arches of Dalaran feels so familiar. The movie world looks exactly the way I remember the game.
Musically it was a little bit disappointing. There were parts where I felt like I was listening to the Command and Conquer: Generals soundtrack, which thematically is just so far from Warcraft. This is made more apparent when “Legends of Azeroth” plays over the end credits, and it just sounds so perfect and fitting. The old soundtrack was a thing of beauty and I wish they had recycled more of it.
This is where the movie falters the most. If we’re being objective, Warcraft 1 and 2 did not have the strongest stories. Orcs come through Dark Portal. Humans live on this side. They fight until someone wins.
It was not until 3 that you had characters with dramatic needs and goals that you can emotionally connect to. Whether it was a helpless prince trying desperately to save his kingdom from a plague or an orc trying to find a home for his people, Warcraft 3 had stories that you cared about.
So it was really sad that they chose to base the story on Warcraft 1. I don’t just mean that it’s about the first invasion, but the way it is structured around a lot of side characters fighting a war. Who am I following? Is it Lothar, trying to defend the kingdom and his son? Is it Garona, torn between two races? Is it Durotan, protecting his people from Gul’dan’s Fel magic?
The script never quite focuses on any one character for long, so you end up with snippets and hints of good ideas, but nothing fully fleshed out… just like the way Warcraft 1 and 2 had interesting back stories that never quite come out in the gameplay and exists only in the pages of the game manuals.
I wished they had focused more on Durotan and the Frost Wolves. ILM did such an amazing job bringing the orcs to life; if only the script could’ve done the same and shown more to portray the orcs as more than bloodthirsty monsters.
In the games, orcs had a rich culture of being one with nature. They were guided by their shamans who worked with the elements to tame the savage environment that is their home world of Draenor. This way of life was corrupted by the warlocks who used Fel magic to gain instant power, but at the cost of making the orcs more warlike and bloodthirsty.
This would’ve been a beautiful metaphor for the Internet, cyber-bullying and revenge porn, but you never once got to see what the orcs were like before. You just saw them post-corruption. You don’t feel the loss Durotan feels because you never saw what Draenor was like, or what the orcs were like before becoming the Horde. I really wanted just one scene of pre-Horde orcs in Draenor, so you know that they didn’t just start out as “evil for the sake of being evil” creatures.
I joked about it before, but Dances with Orcs, the Warcraft version of the classic Kevin Costner movie, would’ve been a great way to peel back the surface impressions of the orcs and show their true culture. It could’ve been a good movie with strong themes about racism and abusing the Internet.
Other potential story lines could be about Garona. She had the beginnings of a good story, but you never get that she feels disconnected from both worlds. A bit more time on her backstory, and maybe a properly paced development of her relationship with Lothar would’ve worked a lot better.
It’s a long movie already, but you can drop Lothar’s son. You can drop the way Gul’dan dominates Blackhand (Blackhand was never portrayed as anything more than a thug anyway). The Medivh plot line was quite unnecessary and confusing for anybody unfamiliar with the name Sargeras anyway. Drop these, and focus on just the key characters to tell their story properly.
Like Jerry Maguire said: “Fewer clients, more attention.”
This was a bit more negative than expected, but seriously it is a movie that all Warcraft fans should watch. It isn’t as bad as the critics say, and it deserves a good chance. It might not be the most solid movie, but it will set the stage for many great Warcraft stories to be told: Thrall and Jaina’s attempts to find peace between humans and orcs, Arthas’ fall from grace, or even a human named John Dunbar befriending the Frost Wolf clan and learning about shamanism and being one with nature.
If you tell those with the same level of authenticity that this movie had, you’ll have a winning franchise.