Warcraft (2016) Review

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Warcraft (2016)

~Review by Grawlix (April 2018)

Score: C+

   I’m not sure what it was about the original Warcraft trailer that put me off so badly. Maybe it was the overdone bombast, which seemed excessive even by Hollywood standards. The screaming, almost pleading epicness of it all, as if it was trying to convince itself more than the viewer, like a C-list metal band’s album cover. “You’re not fooling anyone!”, thought I, “You’re a video game adaptation and you’ll never be anything more”. Four hundred million global box office dollars later (a record for video game adaptations), and I allowed that perhaps it might be worth a peek after all. Besides, Peter Jackson notwithstanding, big-budget sword and sorcery films are still more the exception than the rule, and I figured if I saw a few quality fireballs and lightning bolts then I could justify spending the time.

   Well, it turns out my original assessment was correct, but to Warcraft’s credit, it wasn’t for lack of trying. So, humans (and dwarves and elves too, if about 40 seconds of the runtime is to be believed) live in a generic verdant land (presumably with abundant sources of gold and lumber), and Orcs want to move in. Gnarled, fiendish wizard-Orc opens a portal and there goes the neighborhood. The humans have numbers, the Orcs have strength, and both sides have a few dirty tricks up their sleeves that almost always have unintended consequences. And… that’s about it storywise – about par for the course when it comes to video game movies, really.

   Despite the narrative shackles inherent to the genre, the movie tries to innovate where it can. Probably its boldest decision it to spend as much time as possible with the Orc side, including the opening scenes. Turns out that some Orcs are more hordish than others; while some are in it for the mayhem, others just want a place to live and prosper without constant pillaging and bloodshed (everything in moderation, I suppose). It’s an effective way to build sympathy for what would otherwise be a faceless enemy (especially after all the orc-slaying in the Tolkien movies) but it comes at the cost of losing development of the humans, virtually all of whom are boring stock characters (and all of whom look offputtingly youthful. Seriously, maybe it’s me, but I’m not sure there’s a single major human character over 40 years old in this movie. A concession to the likely younger demographic of its viewing audience, perhaps?). Their arcs, too, such as they are, come pre-cooked, with predictable plot twists telegraphed from miles away.

   Visuals are, unsurprisingly, a major focus here. The Orcs, in particular, look fantastic, with detailed models and highly expressive faces that perfectly compliment the voice acting.  Given the amount of time it’s only Orcs on screen, one can, at times, almost forget they exist solely on a computer mainframe.

   In a sense, it doesn’t even really matter what someone like myself thinks of Warcraft since it was rather transparently made with an eye towards foreign markets, particularly China, where the popularity of MMOs like World of Warcraft make the franchise akin to a folk religion. Considering the international title was Warcraft: The Beginning, it’s clear that the movie was intended to be the start of a franchise although, even at the record setting $400 mil, the movie was considered something of a financial letdown and no sequels appear to be in the pipeline. As it stands, the movie was more or less what I expected, a fairly pat sword and sorcery romp, albeit a pretty one. Give it a look if that’s your thing, but don’t expect anything revolutionary.   

Final Score: C+

Somehow managed to shatter box office records while still underperforming; there’s just no pleasing the bean counters, apparently. Warcraft gets a bit more blood from the video game stone than usual, but it’s still pretty average, overall. It treads water, but looks good doing it.


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