I, of course, was at the first possible showing in my hometown, along with my sister. Like millions of others, I had been waiting with great anticipation for a movie treatment of the world which I have grown to love and enjoy to a great degree (for more on my history with the Warcraft world, see here and here and here).
I will not include any spoilers in case there are those reading this who haven't seen it yet.
The basic plot: the Orcs are in need of a new home after fel magic (translation: bad juju) has all but rendered their homeworld of Draenor uninhabitable. The leader of the Orc's Horde, Gul'dan, has created a portal to Azeroth, a fertile world which offers a future for the Orcs. Some Orcs, like the Frostwolf clan led by Durotan, are skeptical of Gul'dan, but follow because they have little choice. On Azeroth, the humans of Stormwind, led by King Llane and army leader Anduin Lothar, struggle to defend the kingdom against the sudden onslaught of the Horde. They seek help from the mysterious and magical Guardian Medivh, as well as a young but already-skilled mage named Khadgar. Bridging the two sides is Garona, a half-orc captured by the humans who tries to earn their trust. The humans find a possible way to avoid the inevitable war when Durotan offers an alliance against the evil Gul'dan. And we know he's evil, because his eyes are green, and that's never good. Kind of like being able to speak to snakes.
Since the first teasers and trailers were released last year, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation; the film truly looked to be epic, but there are always big shows to fill once trailers create expectations, so I was worried. I just knew it wouldn't be on the same level as "The Lord of the Rings" movies, but then, what could possibly be? I just hoped it would do Azeroth justice, and make the millions of Warcraft fans out there happy.
Long story short - it did, and it will.
It was not a perfect movie, not a paragon of cinematic achievement. There are flaws, and things which if improved could have launched Warcraft but there was plenty in it to enjoy and love and geek out over. I'll start with the good, and then go to my criticisms.
The Orcs - one review I watched pointed out that the tension in Lord of the Rings can be summed up as "humans and elves and hobbits and dwarves = good, orcs = bad." The reviewer isn't wrong, which is what makes the Orcs in "Warcraft" so incredibly refreshing. I actually cared about the Orcs more than the humans, for the most part. The way they were written, their plot, their conflict - all of it had me more engaged in their half of the story than the human half. The main Orcs, good and bad - Durotan, Orgrim, Draka, Gul'dan, Blackhand - were all very compelling and had me caring about what happened to them. The humans, not quite as much.
The visual effects - the effects for this movie are spectacular and beautiful in just about every way. The motion capture CGI for the Orcs and other non-humans looks as good as Gollum from LotR, and that is saying a LOT. Stormwind, Ironforge, Draenor, and other places are gorgeously rendered and epic to see, and the effects used when Khadgar and Medivh and Gul'dan weave their magic is just stunning. The folks at Industrial Light and Magic nailed just about everything to make Warcraft a true visual feast. Also, apparently the 3D is lame, so don't spend the extra dollars for that if you can avoid it.
The music - The soundtrack was exactly what it needed to be: pulse-pounding at the right moments, sweeping when the scene called for it. I'd never heard of Ramin Djawadi before, but I'll be watching him closely in the future. I will say, I had hoped there would be more inclusion of musical themes from the Warcraft game soundtracks woven in. There are a few, but could have been more.
The connections - I could go on and on about this for a while, so let me be brief by saying there are so many things in the movie which will make fans of the Warcraft games and lore very smiley. From seeing very realistic versions of the places they've spent so much time in - Stormwind, Ironforge, Elwynn Forest, Karazhan, and more - to glimpses of characters very well-known in the canon (again, no spoilers) to subtle nods to fans like the spells the mages cast or the weapons the heroes carry. The details, too, are just amazing - each Orc has his or her own distinctive style and ornamentation and design, and the armor/weapons of the humans are stunning.
|If the in-game Stormwind is generic-brand ice cream, movie Stormwind is |
Ben and Freaking Jerry's
It's choppy - There were times in the movie where something felt abrupt or a little out of place. There's one scene, in particular, involving Medivh and Garona, after which I felt rather "huh?" There is a lot of material from which the writers I've never shied away from saying I wish some movies were longer, even if they're already super long. Warcraft is two hours, about standard for big-screen movies, but that's after 30-40 minutes worth of material was cut. I don't know what was in that material, but I wonder if it would have smoothed out some of the rougher transitions and abruptness.
Some of the characters are too 2D - Maybe the extra material could have helped make some of the characters more interesting or relatable. I imagine my long familiarity with the characters of Warcraft may be partially to blame here, but I just got to watch some of the most iconic characters in the whole of Azerothian lore, and if you were to ask whether I truly cared about what happened to some of them, I'd probably respond with "meh." That's especially true with King Llane and Medivh (though I was very pleasantly surprised at Ben Foster's interpretation of the Guardian). Granted, I *know* what happens to pretty much all of the characters in the movie, and even when it happened, my brain reacted more with a "so that's how they chose to portray that" and less of a "ZOMG I KNEW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN AND IT WAS AS INCREDIBLE AS I HOPED." I know that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm already emotionally invested in a lot of these folks, but that investment didn't really manifest itself as much as I felt it should for the movie.
It's a little esoteric - it's easy for a long-time Warcraft fan, or even a short-time Warcraft fan, to enjoy the movie. I'm not so sure it would be as easy for someone not as steeped in the lore or world to enjoy it as much. I am confident a novice could watch it and enjoy it for what it is and not be totally lost, but (and mostly due to the other downsides above), but I wonder if many wouldn't be able to get past the flaws and enjoy it in the way a Warcraft nerd like me could. It feels like a movie made by Warcraft fans for Warcraft fans, and I appreciate that and loved the movie...as a Warcraft fan. I imagine a lot of the negative reviews of the movie are from "Warcraft outsiders," and I can imagine why that could be. But it would be better if non-fans could enjoy it to an almost equal degree (truly equal may be impossible). It's very possible to bridge that gap - look at Lord of the Rings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the new Star Treks; all are loved by most of those franchises' long-time fans, as well as by people who knew nada before watching them.
One thought on the departures from in-game lore - there were parts of the Warcraft movie story which were different, in subtle or dramatic ways, than the in-game and long-established canon. Some of them I really liked, and others I only kind-of liked, and others I didn't really like. What I choose to believe is making this movie from the Warcraft games is like making Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter from the books - it's impossible to make it as faithful as many might hope, because sometimes the stuff on the pages doesn't translate as well to a screen, so you have to make adjustments and changes. I also doubt the makers are planning to try and cover all the Warcraft lore in movie-form - it's an impossible task, so instead maybe they're taking a similar approach as the makers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or recent Star Trek movies- rather than try to tell all the story, they are crafting their own just creating their own little version of part of the story. If that's the case, I'm on board.
If you're still here reading this, know that I had an utter blast watching this movie - I loved being taken to an Azeroth that felt very familiar, very alive, very vibrant, and very tangible. I loved meeting some of my favorite Warcraft characters, good and evil, in a way I'd never encountered them before. I loved seeing the magic and the creatures and the places with which I'd become so familiar over a long period of time. I have so much hope and optimism for what Duncan Jones and his alliance of movie-making hordes can and will hopefully do in the years to come.