I should preface this article by saying that I have no experience with reviewing movies. I am going to be approaching this as a fan of the video game series this film adapts. I actually don’t really watch movies that aren’t animated at all, so if you want a review where the actors are compared to every previous role they ever had and the director’s entire repertoire is brought up, I will be disappointing you. On top of that I must have some seriously poor taste in movies, because Warcraft stands at a pathetic 28% score on Rotten Tomatoes and I’ll be the first to admit I actually kind of enjoyed it.
Adapting the first game in the series, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans from 1994, the movie has us follow a conflict between two factions by switching back and forth between heroes on both sides. We are first introduced to Durotan, a wise and noble Orc chieftain who is expecting his fist son. Despite of his wife being pregnant, he accepts a summon by the warchief Blackhand to join him in waging war. You see, the Orc homeworld is pretty much dead, an absolute wasteland with nothing worth staying around for. The warlock Gul’Dan is using his “Fel” magic to create a portal to a new world, using the souls of hundreds of prisoners to fuel it. Durotan and the rest of the Orcs must travel through and capture enough prisoners on the other side to keep the portal open and let the rest of their race through.
The portal leads to Azeroth, home to many races, but specifically it leads to the lands belonging to the kingdom of Stormwind led by King Llane Wrynn, who is none to pleased to have an army of marauding monsters in the middle of his countryside. Together with his commander Lothar, a young mage named Khadgar, and a more powerful mage called Medivh, he begins a campaign to unravel what the Orcs are doing and how to stop it.
The story plays a bit loose with the original plot, but then again, it was adapted from a video game from the early 90’s that didn’t really have much in-game storytelling. The most interesting part of it involves Durotan’s story, as he begins to have doubts about their mission and how ethical Gul’Dan’s life-stealing magic actually is. It’s really cool to see him struggle with whether to act on his instincts or go along with the rest of the Orcs, which is a storyline that just keeps on giving. It’s so good, in fact, that it kind of overshadows everybody else’s plot.
The Humans, despite having four main characters and carrying Gorona the Orc outcast around, never really get much interesting to do. Medivh and Khadgar are working on researching the Fel and what to do with it, but as the viewers we already know what the Orcs are doing. The Human cast just mostly travels around between various places and stall for time until they can get to the big final battle. The story does focus a lot on Medivh and his waning health, which relates back to Khadgar who is supposed to at some point replace him, but this storyline kind of flops when the resolution to it involves bringing in a super obscure character from the lore, not explaining their significance at all, and that somehow allows the characters to resolve the issue. Lame…
On the upside, Warcraft benefits from having some really nice action sequences that, in turn, really owe a lot of their splendor to how great the Orcs look. The Orcs are big, hulking bastards that charge confidently into combat and start smashing around with unwieldy weapons. They are brutish and look like they came straight from the video game, with Durotan especially looking fantastic. The choreography isn’t mind-blowing, but battles are frequent enough to keep things interesting and always have some nice twists to them. Sadly, while Orcs and even the Stormwind knights look exactly as you’d expect, the rest of the Human cast is a little too generic for Warcraft‘s aesthetic. King Llane ends up being a pretty cool character towards the end, but looks like he came from a different fantasy universe altogether, which also applies to Lothar and Khadgar. Medivh is an exception here, but only because he looks like Jesus in this movie, which is somewhat fitting considering how much every other character reveres him. Even so, he doesn’t really come close to his design and charisma from the games, which is a letdown.
The movie also does kind of mess with the lore, including the umpteenth rewrite of Garona’s backtory. Here she features as a “cursed” outcast that ends up befriending the Humans; her character flip flops between emotional damsel and badass action girl, which concludes in a way that is just plain stupid, even by the standards of the Orcs. They also really try to get a romance side-story going with her that comes out of nowhere and lasts about half a scene before vanishing entirely. To compensate for this, Blackhand and Gul’Dan make an absolutely fantastic villain duo, with Gul in particular really owning his role as this violent, egocentric jerk of a warlock.
The movie also deserves praise for its fan-service, as it goes out of its way to take fans to locations like Ironforge, Westfall, and Dalaran, even if that does mean the cast has to rush from location to location, it’s cool of them to show off these iconic and nostalgic locales. So you might be wondering by now: is this just a movie for the fans of the game? I do believe that if you enjoy fantasy, then this is a pretty neat movie to watch. It has cool action scenes and a plot that is pretty interesting, as long as you can forgive its disjointed storytelling and some of the lackluster heroes involved. Fans of the games will have a better time here, and especially those that never played Warcraft: Orcs & Humans should give it a look.