Videogame films have a long history of being among some of the worst films ever made. Not from a lack of solid source material, but the execution has always proved lacking. Early reviews of this summer’s Warcraft movie seemed to indicate that would be the case, yet again, with the first live action adaptation of one of the biggest franchises in the realm of PC gaming. Early box office numbers seem to suggest otherwise.
The film thrusts viewers into the dying world of Draenor – the Orc homeworld. We don’t know why it’s dying, but things are grim for this tribal race of warriors. Hope for the Orcs lies beyond a portal into a new world. To open and sustain this portal, the Orcish shaman Gul’dan harnesses the power of a mysterious magic known as “the fel.” It’s a dark magic fueled by death, and a major driving force in the film’s plot. The amount of energy required to open this portal is immense as Gul’dan harvests the life force of thousands of captives to lead an invading force into this new world, Azeroth.
As a relative newcomer to the lore of Warcraft, having only played one of the original games and less than 20 hours of World of Warcraft, I expected to be lost going into this film. From the early reviews, it seemed like this was going to be a tale that would only make sense for viewers with a background in the established mythos of Warcraft. However, I found this assumption to be hugely inaccurate. While there were moments early in the narrative that felt confusing, the exposition, both from character dialogue and situational context, helped to weave those threads into a coherent plot that was genuinely enjoyable.
The basic premise of the film is rather simple: a warrior race is moving to a new home, but the natives there don’t take too kindly to that invasion – especially since those invaders are working hard to kill everything in their path. The way it progresses and the subtle intricacies peppered in the story’s intertwining subplots elevate the basic foundation of the plot and creates an entire world rich with fantasy lore and memorable characters. It’s not as straightforward as a brutish horde encroaching on a civilized world. There’s internal conflict from within the tribe as some Orcs begin to question if what Gul’dan is doing is right for the Orcs, or if he’s leading them down a destructive path that blasphemes their heritage and traditions. The trailers for the film hint at unlikely alliances being formed as a result of these internal conflicts, but when these events take place in the film, the payoff is grand. It not only sets up one of the best action scenes in the movie, but also unveils new mysteries that send viewers off to fantastic new locations as the players in the Alliance try to stop the rest of the devastating Horde from breaking through from Draenor and destroying the world of Azeroth.
While I can’t say that there’s anything particularly outstanding about the plot – nothing life-changing or deeply impactful – the story manages to be entertaining for the film’s 2-hour runtime. The fantasy lore is deep and intriguing. It doesn’t ease viewers in, necessarily, but it does a great job during the 120 minutes you’re in Azeroth to get you caught up. It doesn’t go out of its way to remind viewers with callbacks or reiterating plot points; instead, exposition in this world feels natural with characters expecting their associates to remember a previous plot point without having to repeat it. Some viewers may suffer during a first viewing, but the end result feels more organic than hearing a rehash of dialogues and ideas.
The world of Azeroth is a fantastical one filled with numerous fantasy races, powerful mages, devastating warriors, and fearsome Orcs. The characters in the world are natural in this fantasy realm. The dialogue is a blend of pseudo old timey expressions melded with contemporary English to give each line a fantasy feel without alienating audiences by being hard to follow. The only confusion really comes with trying to keep track of characters and locales by name. As strong as the cast of characters is, the otherworldly nomenclatures are definitely not easy to remember.
Being a fantasy action epic, there’s plenty of fantasy action to be had in Warcraft. The world is inhabited by formidable warriors and powerful mages. The Orcs that invade Azeroth are these gigantic, brutish beasts that wield proportionally large weapons. These massive foes dwarf the humans of the alliance and their prowess of using pure force is downright terrifying when you see them in action. The combat scenes are as intense as they are entertaining. Unlike other fantasy films where the heroes are just slightly outmatched in strength by their foes, the Orcs in Warcraft are towering mounds of muscle that can toss a horse without breaking a sweat. These aren’t end bosses in dungeons, these are the grunts in this army – each one just as powerful as the next. It’s a genuine blast seeing just how devastating they can be in combat.
It’s not just the war hammers and battle axes that have this devastating impact. Sorcery is also hugely important in the world of Warcraft. The previously mentioned “fel” is a terrifying dark magic that feeds on life energy and can be used to bestow or, more appropriately, infect others with this power. There are a number of spells that make an appearance in the film with each having this startlingly forceful power. Even a teleport spell feels impressive when the bass reverberates throughout the cinema.
Warcraft is a huge IP. Millions of gamers are still logging countless hours in World of Warcraft. The franchise is no stranger to other mediums, and film feels like the next logical step for the brand. And it’s one that makes sense. The universe is huge, and the action lends itself well to a summer blockbuster. Thankfully, the lore is interesting enough to keep the plot moving forward when characters aren’t engaging in combat. It’s a loud, fun, summer flick that has plenty of depth to keep viewers invested. While it may not win any awards, it’s certainly entertaining and absolutely worth a watch.
Good – 3 / 3