Review: Warcraft

Research finished! It took ’em years, but Blizzard has finally made good on delivering a long-anticipated full-feature movie with Warcraft. Does it sail on gryphon wings or plummet to the depths of the naga?

Or perhaps an entirely different sort of animal?

Or perhaps an entirely different sort of animal?

Let’s start with the disclosures, shall we? I got to watch Warcraft four days early at a Ster-Kinekor pre-screening event, having been graciously invited along as the plus one of a friend who’d won himself double tickets in one of them click-to-enter competitions (thanks to Popular Mechanics). The popcorn was fresh, the soda was cold, and, perhaps most importantly, it was all free. Not only that, our showing was at the relatively new IMAX 3D cinema over at Eastgate Mall. It’s a fine cinema, with comfy, wide-enough seats and spectacularly large and crisp image quality and thundering audio (even if my memory tells me this IMAX Digital screen is not as humongous as the old IMAX screen I remember from Menlyn Mall). I have always held some disdain for 3D, but I’ll certainly say it’s getting better with each new film I see. The effect is less jarring to me although I still find the forced focus in scenes frustrating, and large, landscape-panning shots seemed especially out of focus (I don’t know whether that’s a fault of the cinema tech or a failure of the film production). My last 3D-whine is about how I need to keep my head still or risk things looking ghosted and blurry. And with that…

Yeah, that's the place.

Yeah, that’s the place.

I’ll begin with the senses. Visually, I found Warcraft positively stunning. While I haven’t taken the time to read other reviews, I did pick up snippets of them and I got a fairly negative impression there, particularly about the big (mostly) green lot. I don’t really know where that came from – I felt the effects, locations, and characters all looked pretty damn good. Yes a suspension of disbelief is required, but that goes with the territory’s of behemoth-like, tusked humanoid creatures, and a city built atop mountainous rocks literally floating in the clouds. This is fantasy, people, and I thought it was pretty damn fantastic (IMAX, new cinema, pinches, salt, etc.). Also, this is despite walking in there with the expectation that I was about to witness failure (see: /almost/ all videogame movies). The human’s armour design, on footmen and such, didn’t have the bulkiness and weight of movement I’d expected. It was very nice and clean and oh-so-prettily gilded and detailed and it seemed a bit silly. One could say it’s a nice juxtaposition with the rough-hewn look of the Orcs, their visual design being spot on to my eye. Magic effects and spells were fantastic, and I very much enjoy the idea that a magic-users’ eyes light up when they’re using it (more a part of the Warcraft universe, but still).

All the props to Blizzard for using crowd chants from Blizzcon, too.

And props to Blizzard for using crowd chants from Blizzcon.

In terms of audio, I don’t have any particular complaints. Audio is obviously very dependant on the hardware, but the sounds put through said hardware were quite agreeable. All the noises were good complements to the scenes, be they jungle pursuits or canyon flights. Brief moments of tenderness in Orc voices, with just about none of the gravelly sound I’d expect, surprised me enough to affect immersion once or twice. I enjoyed the tribal, rhythmic percussion of the music during fight scenes, the drums beating a pattern in my ears for a time well after the credits rolled.

So the story, then? Orcs & Humans! The Warcraft film more-or-less fleshes out the story of how Orcs came to find themselves in Azeroth, having travelled there through a magical portal from their dying homeworld, in the hopes of claiming this one for their own. If you’re familiar with the lore of the Orcs from the first Warcraft game, or the manuals of the RTS titles (ah, short stories in the physical manuals…), you’ll probably have a good idea of the overarching narrative that runs atop the more “zoomed-in” and character-focussed lens of the movie. I enjoyed the opportunity to see, from an Orc-on-the-ground perspective, just how the events of the horde’s initial foray into Human realms went down. The film primarily chronicles the experiences of two heroes – Durotan, a young chieftan of the Frost Wolf clan, and Anduin Lothar, called the Lion of Azeroth in the lore and brother to the king. Pinning them and other characters to the vague ideas of them which I had garnered from the games (and gaining reference points for some of the unit chatter from the RTS titles), was quite a treat.

What 'chu wan'?

What ‘chu wan’?

The greatest stumble of the film, however, must certainly be the character writing. Most characters felt terribly plot-driven and flat, and even unnecessary in some cases. While the script works hard to make a few seem more likeable and layered, some actors sadly seem like they are simply working through the motions rather than engrossing themselves in their parts and do not lend a lot of depth to their parts. Main human Lothar and his brother the king are unfortunate examples of this, but happily Durotan makes a more engaging performance. It’s almost as though human character performances are worse than that of their CG counterparts – an unusual case indeed. That said, there is a surprise move or two for some characters and, while humans seem almost insufferably good for the most part, it might just be because we’re a little too used to Game of Thrones’ brand of deceit.

All in all, friend and I very much enjoyed Warcraft, and I think most Warcraft fans will enjoy seeing this tale unfold too. This may be the most enjoyable videogame movie I’ve seen. Fantasy action, fantasy, and action movie fans will likely have a good time, though they may want to leave their Thrones’ comparisons at the portal. Suspend your disbelief, get set up with good video and sound (I suspect things could be underwhelming without those) and, be it for the alliance or the horde, charge on in!

Obviously there's a love interest. This is a videogame movie, after all.

Obviously there’s a love interest. This is a videogame movie, after all.