Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Movie Review: Warcraft (2016)

When I was in middle school, my friend David and I greatly enjoyed playing the fantasy war game Warcraft. Although I never got the sequel Warcraft 2 myself, the day I went off to college I bought Warcraft III and that Christmas I got the Frozen Throne expansion pack. The latter games in particular I felt had better storylines than many movies and I would have liked to see it on the big screen.

Well, to have a Warcraft III movie you have to have a Warcraft movie, and that’s what we got with this film. Was it everything a lifelong Warcraft fan could want? Let’s see…

The Plot

The world of Azeroth has been at peace for a long time, but that peace is shattered when the Orc Horde under the command of the sorcerer Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) invades, seeking a new homeland now that their world has been poisoned by evil fel magic. Human warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), whose sister Taria (Ruth Negga) is married to King Llane of Stormwind, faces the invasion head-on. Fighting alongside him are the half-trained mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), his son Collan (Burkely Duffield), and the POW-turned ally Garona (Paula Patton), who is half-Orc and half-human. Advising Llane is the sorcerer Medivh (Ben Foster), who may be more than he seems, while the Orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and his friend Orgrim Doomhammer (Robert Kazinsky) grow more skeptical of Guldan’s destructive ways…

The Good

*The movie is a faithful adaptation of the games in terms of plot, locations, etc.  Although the first game was much lighter in storyline than the later installments, there’s enough here to have a functioning movie.

*Like the second game and the later installments, the story averts the trope of Fantasy Gun Control. In fact, they do it really awesomely in one key scene.

*Like Warcraft III, the movie does a great job humanizing the Orcs. They’re depicted as fierce warriors with a strong honor culture instead of a horde of homicidal savage demon-worshipers. This represents an improvement over the first game, which in addition to the homicidal demon-worshiping bit also depicts the Orcs as generally being idiots. It goes so far as to attribute Garona’s intelligence to her mixed Orc and human lineage. This improved depiction of the Orcs ties nicely in with the third game.

*We meet the future Orc war-chief Thrall as a baby, a nice tie-in with the third game.

*Other than some draggy bits toward the middle, the movie is rarely boring. It’s quite entertaining, which is why we see movies after all. J

*There are a lot of fun little nods to the game, including the Polymorph spell one can use to transform dangerous enemies into helpless sheep, the Orcish phrase “zug-zug,” and how a golem animated by fel magic bears a strong resemblance to the Infernals used by the demonic Burning Legion in Warcraft III. My old stalwart TVTropes has a whole bunch listed under Mythology Gag.

*Of particular note is the half-Orc Garona. The movie plays her as torn between two worlds, disdained by her own kind but yet strongly devoted to the honor and martial traditions the Orcs practiced before Gul'dan rose to power. Half-Orcs are often depicted as the product of rape of human women by savage Orcs, but the film hints at a more complicated back-story connected to Medivh. Her role in the climax of the film ties in with the game, but at the same time is very different, in a very clever way.

*Although the Orc chieftain Blackhand is underused in the film (I’ll explain more later), there is a really cool explanation for his name.

*There’s an explanation for why some Orcs are green and others aren’t.

The Bad

*A character is revealed to be a traitor, but their motivation is never really explained. One could hand-wave this by saying that he’d discovered fel magic and it had warped him, but some more details would have been nice.

*Although the movie is generally a good mix of CGI and normal actors, the dwarves look very video-game-like. Snow White and the Huntsman, Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit did a good job depicting dwarves—I don’t see why this movie, with a comparable budget and less well-known actors to pay, couldn’t have done the same.

*We see elves in one scene, but they don’t do anything. You can tell they're elves from their ears, but they aren't even described as elves.

*Garona’s relationship with Gul'dan could be elaborated on a bit more. She seems to be his Morality Pet to an extent—he apparently saved her life when her mother was executed and even gave her one of her mother's tusks to remember her by, but at the same time he drags her around on a chain and treats her rather shabbily until she proves her worth to the Orcs.

*The first game depicts Garona as an intellectual (she’s the one narrating the story of the Orcs in the instruction manual), but the movie depicts her as this Klingon-like noble savage who at first speaks English very poorly. Some hints of her scholarly potential could have been included—perhaps she could have been Gul'dan's apprentice and he mistreated her with the idea it’d motivate her to grow more powerful and someday challenge him? Think Star Wars and the Sith.

*Orgrim Doomhammer engages in some behavior that should provoke Gul'dan’s wrath, but the sorcerer stays his hand. It’s never explained why.

*Blackhand, the Orc chief who led the initial invasion of Azeroth, is underused in the film. They could have elaborated on his character a lot more.

*The movie does drag in a few places, especially toward the middle. It’s not an overpowering problem, but still.

*We see a lot of Llane and his wife, but their children are never mentioned and not even seen until Llane rides out for the final battle. It wouldn’t be that difficult to see them earlier—perhaps Llane’s son Varian greatly admires his older cousin Collan and we see them sparring or something?

*During the final human assault on the Orc bridgehead, either Stormwind warriors lose their discipline or their tactical training always sucked. They seem to forget how to form a shield-wall and swarm against the Orcs, whose tactics are generally not much better, even though we see some soldiers forming a testudo formation to deal with an Orc cavalryman in one scene.

The Verdict

A fun movie, but not worth the $13.70 I paid to see it in the evening. Save it for a matinee. 8.0 out of 10.

Hopefully the next one — and consideringhow much the movie has grossed overseas, I’m pretty sure there will be a nextone — will have all of this one’s strengths but none of its weaknesses.

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