First Thoughts on Warcraft

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Warcraft is the new movie from Duncan Jones based on the popular video game franchise of the same name. My experience with Warcraft only extends to Warcraft III, which I played obsessively for a few years before realising I sucked at it. While achieving a respectable rating of 7.7 on IMDB, it’s been panned by critics for taking itself “too seriously.” I would certainly agree that when you sit down to watch Warcraft, you are in for a very serious story with no room for self-awareness or self-parody. But this is a staple of any fantasy movie. Look at Lord of the Rings – arguably the hallmark of fantasy movies. That series is incredibly heavy and everybody loves it. With Warcraft, you’re are similarly getting a solid fantasy blockbuster that ticks all the boxes.

This argument about Warcraft being too serious comes about because in the Warcraft universe there are gags that poke fun at the fantasy genre, and the games don’t take themselves too seriously. While that is true, it would be denying that at its core Warcraft has tons of serious lore, quests and plot. The less serious parts of the Warcraft video games are always bolted on as additional side content. When I think of Warcraft, I don’t think of the more light hearted parts of the franchise. I think of the unintentionally hilarious accents of Uther and Arthas, characters which take themselves so seriously I found myself cringing. This is an internal battle that the fantasy genre as a whole is constantly having with itself. If you’re gonna make a fantasy movie or game or whatever, just go for it. Don’t hold back, and just hope that you rope people in enough to go along with you. It’s not going to be for everyone and God knows I have my criticisms of the Warcraft movie, but to attack it on the grounds that it takes itself too seriously is a bit of a stretch.

For my part, I found the movie absolutely stunning. The aesthetic draws you in and I was reminded heavily of the Dungeons and Dragons movie which, although is rubbish, does feel rich and full of lore. The orcs look fantastic and the settings are created with such finesse that I couldn’t tell how much of it was CGI. Honestly, it looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen and, when you’re allowing a movie to transport you to a new world, it’s important that the CGI doesn’t distract you. I found it to be wonderfully engrossing.

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As far as the plot goes, we’re treading very familiar ground with Warcraft. It hits just about every single generic fantasy plot point you can imagine. I have seen some reviews trying to hold this movie up as an example that video game adaptations can be just as deep as original screenplays or book adaptations, but that isn’t the case. While certainly better than the majority of video game adaptation movies out there, a breakthrough success this is not. The plot completely lacks depth, but if you can enjoy it for what it is – an action packed thrill ride – then it is definitely solid, watchable, popcorn fun.

A major criticism I would put against this movie is the quality of the acting. Travis Fimmel, who plays the lead human character in the film, was pretty bad. He took me out of it on numerous occasions when he didn’t deliver lines with anything like the kind of gusto that his character would. He plays the grumpy old-school soldier trope who is judgemental of his new sidekick (Ben Schnetzer). While I find that dynamic in fantasy movies to be really tiring, here it was even worse because I didn’t even feel like they believed in the lines they were delivering. All of the human characters in the movie were pretty terrible, but that is more down to my inability to go along with fantasy movies without cringing. Dominic Cooper, who played the king, was suitably cheesy and I laughed out loud at some of his lines. The cheesiness of some parts of the human’s story pushed the quality of this into B-movie territory for me, which would be fine if it wasn’t for the obviously massive budget backing this film.

A debate I’ve seen raging on about this movie is whether you need to have played any of the games to get the movie. I would say definitely not. While there is the occasional nod towards different races, locations and characters already established in the Warcraft universe, you lose nothing by coming into this movie totally blind and enjoying it for what it is. I think the fact that the name ‘Warcraft’ has been attached to this movie has obscured a lot of people’s judgement on it. On the one hand you have the disappointed Warcraft fanatics who didn’t get the movie they wanted because it tried to appeal to a mass audience, and on the other you get those who love the movie just because it is in the Warcraft universe. I don’t think it would have gotten that 7.7 on IMDB if this movie was released under a different title, look at it that way. At the same time, I don’t think it deserves quite as much criticism as it’s been getting. It’s an average fantasy movie which passes the time, but it’s nothing more than that.

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