Movie Review: “Warcraft” – What Is It Good For?

Written by Matt Butler July 01, 2016

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I saw Warcraft under very special circumstances. I was in Hamilton for a close friend’s wedding reception with a bit over nine hours to kill before the event, and Warcraft was playing at the Mountain Cinemas. Eager to explore the cityscape, and too stingy for public transit, I decided to go for a hike through the city. Now, Warcraft is two hours long, the walk to the theatre took two and a half. By that, you may think the walk was exhausting, seeing how balmy it’s been these past few weeks. It was anything but. To me, there’s something richly exciting about walking through a new city, a place so customary to everyone but yourself. It also helps that I had a GPS and a good book in hand. What am I getting at with all this? Well, unlike with most movies I see, where the distance is a ten-minute bike ride from my house, the distance between the bus station and The Mountain (such an appropriate title) was a journey in and of itself. So, in a way, The Mountain, with all its air-conditioned, over-priced splendour, was the big red ‘X’ on the treasure map, with Warcraft as the treasure. In short, I was pumped. It made everything about going to the movies feel exciting again, but consequentially, led to greater disappointment.

And that’s the keyword of this review, disappointment. Like a mother’s quiet scolding, I wasn’t mad, I was disappointed. Not that I’m trying to guilt trip Duncan Jones, why would he care? That’s just my way of saying I was rooting for Warcraft. Not that I’m a big fan of the franchise (I was always more of a Runescaper, really), but there were a few features of the film that I was a fan of. For one, the lack of binaries in the races. As the poster shows, the war of Warcraft is between humans and orcs, but their forward stare alludes to their eventual unison, to their discovery of a common enemy. But more surprising to me was how the orcs are even more likeable than the humans, specifically Durotan (Toby Kebbell). He’s the one with the easiest motivation to chew: Protect my newborn son. He’s easily the most sympathetic character and deserves time to be called its leading protagonist, but he’s just one of many main characters fighting for screen time.

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“I’ve led thousands of warriors into battle, but I fear being a father. Does that make me a leader, or a coward?”

The second keyword of this review: Bloated. There is a lot going on in the world of Warcraft, but that doesn’t mean we need to see all of it. This movie jumps from one corner of the map to the next in under a minute, sometimes even forgetting an establishing shot. There are so many subplots and so many characters whose names I’ll never remember, let alone know how to spell, that Warcraft almost feels like an overlong extended edition of the first episode of Game of Thrones. It’s laying the pipework for a larger story, in which all these plot threads will eventually converge into something coherent, but here, in this two hour long first act of a story, you feel like you’re the one doing the pipework.

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And can anyone remind me what these orcs and humans are fighting for, besides dominance? It’s clear that the Fell is a resource both parties can tap into fairly easily, so why is it something worth fighting over? The prologue asserts that the Fell is the cause of the divide between humans and orcs, with its unnatural power to enhance the body but corrupt the mind. So, basically, the only way to know if someone is truly evil, is if they keep a stash of green magic in their house. Is this movie pushing the message I think it’s pushing? It also really hammers in who the real villains are, the ones that look like villains the second you see them. You can call it simple character design, but I say these orcs and humans should have clued in to who the real enemies were long ago, the evil Saruman wannabe and the big evil-looking guy with the big evil-looking spikes in his back.

“I’ve spent more time protecting my king, than my own son. Does that make me loyal, or a fool?”

You think with characters like that, that Warcraft wouldn’t take itself that seriously, but Warcraft for better and for worse, means serious business. While I am surprised that the movie avoids any ham-fisted wink wink moments, I think Warcraft just avoids levity altogether. There’s hardly a moment’s rest in this story, as it flies from one castle to the next and back again. You never get those relaxed beauty shots that you’d find in Middle Earth. Speaking of Lord of the Rings, this film desperately needs a Shire. I know everyone’s going to say how disingenuous Warcraft is with its similarities to the LOTR Trilogy, but I say Warcraft wasn’t enough like LOTR, and that it should have been more like it. Mainly, it needs a Shire, a pastoral homestead that all mythical races have in some shape or form. Yes, Warcraft does have its father-son theme to remind us where our characters’ motives lie, but this theme gets hardly enough focus to be any semblance of pivotal to the overarching story.

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If there was anything to frustrate me though, it was the death of Durotan. Facing off against (Daniel Wu), you’d expect Durotan’s either going to come out on top or die a martyr. He does neither. He just dies. And rots. It’s the most dishonourable way to kill a character. The film never gives you that extra moment to let the emotion take hold, so for the rest of the film, I had this terrible sinking feeling in my chest. You know what, I wasn’t just disappointed. I was angry.

“Our hope is destroyed; there is nothing to go back to. Is war the only answer?”

What I took from Warcraft was a work of enormous potential that remains entirely untapped. It feels three drafts shy of greatness, and two acts shy of a complete narrative. You can tell the people behind Warcraft take this world very seriously, but they seem to have forgotten how to have fun with it. While I commend Warcraft for its lack of binaries (both in races and genders), I can’t say the film offers any of the escapism that the game is so famous for. The most painful irony is that my walk to the theatre was far more exciting than the movie itself.

My Rating: 4/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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