Video game films have a lot of hurdles to overcome in the best situations, but when we’re “adapting” something that doesn’t exactly have a story to adapt (novels aside), pulling something together that can even manage to simply entertain is nearly impossible.
Luckily, the film took a chance on Duncan Jones, whose credits don’t exactly scream “fantasy, tentpole spectacle,” though they do give one a reasonable expectation to deliver “sci-fi storytelling.”
Odd as it may sound for a film that perhaps ultimately lives or dies on its fight scenes and action, Jones’ commitment to characters gives Warcraft its ability to keep things moving. Though this isn’t a film that has the potential to live up to the character-driven approach of Moon, or Source Code (Jones’ only other efforts), it clearly places more value on sticking with motivations and delivering honest characters than most things anywhere near the genre.
Where many action/fantasy/sci-fi efforts throw their own characters away by having actions and decisions come down to whatever has to happen to get to the next plot point, whether it seems to make any sense for the character we’ve been given, or not, Warcraft actually tries like hell to build the plot out of where its characters would go.
It only has so much play along those lines, because, if nothing else, demons are screwing with some people, but in a world with so many “popcorn” films simply offering up “you’ll like this, because you’re stupid,” this is at least an effort that believes there might be an audience that likes fireworks, but still has a brain.
The film abandons explanation for the most part, and instead simply throws the world at you. Azeroth is your typical, medieval setting with knights, magic, and dwarves that are attempting to perfect the blunderbuss. You either know where we are from the games, or you’ll figure it out.
Through a magical portal, powered by Fel magic, which uses life force, Orcs are coming to Azeroth, and they’re slaughtering and capturing humans so fast that King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) and his most noteworthy knight, Lothar (Travis Fimmel), barely have time to figure out what’s going on, much less defend against the onslaught.
As luck would have it, one of the Orc Chieftains, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), is having second thoughts about following a leader who uses magic that sucks the life out of everything, including the land around them.
The usual feints are all here if you want to bullet point it, and some viewers may roll their eyes at the fallen son that is hopelessly foreshadowed, or find fault with the double- and triple-crosses that keep popping up, but at some point we move into the territory of labeling something predictable because the good guys win.
The film is carried largely by the same charm Travis Fimmel brought to Vikings, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks amazing, and has battle scenes that actually think through the idea of humans surviving against orcs, but the positives would only be able to make this one mediocre at best. Warcraft moves beyond that point by the absence of negatives. It’s still too long, and spends too much of the last 40 minutes setting up a sequel, but the film dodges so many industry pitfalls along the way that you have to give it credit.
Sadly, we live in a world that makes it possible for a movie to be better just by not changing good writing to meet with focus group expectations.
That said, there is too much the film is trying to do, and it takes too much time laying out fan service at the expense of solidifying more interesting elements. It isn’t likely to truly impress anyone, because it has too many people to impress, but it is solid entertainment that has a lot setting it above most popcorn films.