Warcraft: The Beginning – Review

It’s rare that two of my main interests – gaming and film – intersect. The history of video game adaptations to film isn’t a pretty one, and when the Warcraft film was announced as actually a thing that was happening, I was both nervous and excited. Warcraft has such potential for incredible films, but as with any video game adaptation, it had the chance to be terrible.

Before I dive into details, let me just start by saying the film isn’t terrible – it’s avoided the pitfalls of ‘another terrible video game movie’. Is it an incredible, groundbreaking, life-changing film? No, but that was always unlikely, and as far as I’m concerned the film was good enough. Good enough sounds like a fairly mediocre review, but I mean from the stand point of a general audience member. Warcraft provides a fun film experience for people who’ve never played the game, but for fans of the franchise (especially the lore) it’s something else entirely. The World of Warcraft has been brought to life.

My full review after the cut, but we warned that there will be some spoilers ahead. If you’re familiar with the lore it shouldn’t be anything surprising, but if you’re not then I’d recommended seeing it and coming back.

Okay, so lets start off with the positives. Firstly, the orcs and the CGI. There was a possibility that the orcs just ended up looking stupid or goofy, but that isn’t the case. I’d probably say you’ll care more about the orc characters than the humans; they feel like full, real people. Rather than feel like you’re looking at a blue screen with people dressed up, you feel like you’re looking at real orcs, and it’s pretty mind-blowing. Durotan and Orgrim are both well done, but it’s Gul’Dan who really steals the show, with an outstanding performance and a showcasing of a character that feels exactly like the lore.

Secondly, the world feels lived in and credible. Not only is it constantly recognisable to places in the game (with Karazhan being the only exception), but the visuals are stunning, and really give you a sense that you’re looking at a place that could really exist. Long time players should get a big kick out of seeing multiple locations, with Stormwind and Ironforge being particular highlights. It’s also exciting to see several big figures from the lore be presented on-screen.

Thirdly, the story is done well. Of all the lore in Warcraft, the first war was the sensible place to start, but isn’t really the most compelling piece of storytelling it has to offer, and they’ve managed to shape it into a story that’s coherent, fun, and that doesn’t change things in the established lore too much. All of the changes made, whether it’s stuff that just isn’t mentioned for the sake of simplicity (e.g. Medivh’s actions being down to Sargeras, after his confrontation with Aegwynn) or stuff that’s been modified (Karazhan looks like the home of a wizard, even though it’s nothing like in-game) all made sense and helped build a better narrative. In the lore, the first war ends on a complete downer with pretty much no reason to feel hope for the future. In the film, they don’t shy away from the negative (such as major characters being killed) but they also tell a story that feels rounded, and most importantly, leaves you wanting more.

Unfortunately, the film does have its issues, so lets move on to them. First off, the performances are a mixed bag at best. While the performance capture stuff with the orcs is great (though it’s hard to tell if that’s down to the effects or the actors), the human side just doesn’t come off as well. In the bigger roles, there are no outright bad performances, but more than one actor seems miscast. It seems strange, as the film must have had a considerable budget, but it feels as if more money was needed to ensure better people, or just more time was needed to cast the right people in the right role. Lothar is at times good, adding a layer of personality to the role, but at other times it doesn’t quite work. He’s a great warrior, and at times in the film he just doesn’t quite come off that way. He looks a little too polished and young, when I felt like I wanted someone gruff and fierce.

I generally feel like age is a problem across the board. Lothar, Medivh and Llane grew up together (though we never see it in the film), so it stands to reason that they’re all the same age. However, if all three of them were about 10 years older, I feel it would have worked a lot better. Llane looks too young to be a wise king, Medivh looks too young to be scorning the ‘young’ apprentice, and Lothar looks too young to be a grizzled war veteran, the leader of Stormwind’s armies. The performances of Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster and Travis Fimmel aren’t bad, they just feel a little out-of-place. They were enjoyable enough to watch, but afterwards I couldn’t help but feel things could have better with different actors in those roles. On the flip side, Paula Patton is excellent as Garona, and Ruth Negga is good as the Queen, though she gets little screen time.

Speaking of Medivh and Khadgar, this is the part of the film that works least well. Their story is underserved, which is understandable considering the sheer amount of story to get across in this film, and how the stuff with the orcs is usually more interesting and worth more screen time. However, because both characters are underwritten, it leaves the impression that they didn’t need to be in the film at all, and I honestly have to wonder whether cutting Khadgar in order to streamline the story might have been a wiser move. As much as I love Khadgar (and unlike other reviewers I thought Ben Schnetzer’s performance was fine), in general lore terms he doesn’t really do that much going forward, and considering the ending with him at Karazhan ended up different anyway, it feels like a mistake on the part of the filmmakers: make him interesting, or don’t include him and focus on other parts of the story.

As a Warcraft fan though, I loved this film, and the only thing I wanted to do after watching it was see it again. It’s true that general audiences might not find as much enjoyment in it, as there are a lot of characters and places to keep track of, and the film does move quickly. However, for someone who’s well aware of the story already, the film simply brings Warcraft to life, and it is stunning to see it done so well. There are rumours that Duncan Jones had to edit the film down quite a lot, meaning there are a ton of deleted scenes. If that’s true, it could mean an extended cut with the DVD release, and I would happily watch a three-hour version of this film.

I could probably keep talking about this film for some time, as there’s so many little moments to mention and analysis of story I could get into, but for now it’s enough to say that Warcraft: The Beginning is good enough. A good enough video game adaptation to break the curse, good enough to show to other people the Warcraft universe is vast and interesting, good enough for fans to be blown away, and good enough to want more to be made.

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