This is a strange film. Despite my love of games, my knowledge of Warcraft is entirely derived from the Southpark Episode, Make Love Not Warcraft. I have friends who have dedicated years to the game but I was never even tempted. After hearing how disappointed fans of the game were with the film, I decided to give it a miss. Then I heard how well it was doing in China and changed my mind to give it a watch. It turns out not to be a complete disaster.
Fans of the game can correct me but the story of the film is quite a common fantasy tale. The Orcs homeworld is dead and stripped f resources so they need to find a new land to live in. In this film, they intend to open a portal to the realm of Azeroth. They do this with an orc shamen who sucks the life force out of others to build a super portal. They manage to make a portal big enough for a strike force or landing party to arrive in Azeroth to claim more prisoners. Among this is clan leader and main orc character Durotan. As they make it through the portal his heavily pregnant wife gives birth to a child. The baby orc is stillborn and only saved by the orc shamen Gul’dan. E sucks the life from a nearby deer and transfers it to the child. Tensions are already clear between the traditional orcs, represented by Durotan and the new breed under Gul’dan. This is mostly because of is the use of a mysterious green magic called fel. He uses this to enhance orcs but it is suggested that fel magic was the ruination of their homeland.
In Azeroth, we are introduced to the human characters. Rather than struggling with the names and possibly insulting fans of the game they fall into the stereotype of King, Queen, Queen’s brother who is a skilled fighter, trainee mage and the Guardian. The guardian is the most powerful mage in Azeroth and as the name suggests is there to guard the land against harm. The trainee mage forms a partnership with the fighter and this provides what the film is sorely lacking. Comic relief. The mage discovers the fel magic and warns the rest meaning they need to get the guardian to investigate this so off they fly on the back of a gryphon to meet him and the story begins.
Although I say story there really isn’t much of it. The orcs invade and have internal differences and we discover that all is not what it seems with the guardian. It is all very capable, by the book, fantasy fodder. Unfortunately, it all happens too quickly in this film. We don’t get any chance for characterisation and have to go by the stereotypes I mentioned above. There is, in fact, greater characters and storytelling on the orc side of the film. The struggle between tradition and the new way should have been the focus of the whole film. The human stories seem like an unwelcome distraction. In fact, the whole film could do with being longer. If it was the length of Lord Of The Rings, there would be time to care about the human characters as much as you do about the orcs.
They try to get around this by having a character who is half orc half human. Called Garona, she is shunned by the orcs and humans alike and could have been used as the one character in the film who has a link with the audience. Unfortunately, she is underused and the important events she is involved in seem like a cheap payoff. Again she is a generic cut and paste character, who isn’t fleshed out enough to make their actions have any relevance. If only they had focussed a bit more on making the characters have a background and some character. There is nothing wrong with the enjoyable generic storyline except the fact that the lack of character building makes it feel like you have jumped into a TV series at the end.
Having said that, there are many positives to this film. The art style is very unique. It captures the colourful nature of the game, while adding in some violent battle scenes. Everything is CGI of course but that doesn’t stop it being well done. The orcs are just as they are in the artwork of the game and can convey emotion better than the human characters. Durotan, in particular, is a tragic character who loses everything apart from his honour. The battle scenes are clear and well thought out but not on the scale suggested in the trailers. You are never going to see a Helm’s Deep here despite how much you might want to with the colourful characters. The violence is as realistic as one could expect with orcs involved. The humans are no match for them in strength and many are crushed in comical fashion beneath the Warhammer’s of the orcs. No pun intended. The realm of Azeroth is also beautifully rendered and despite the fleeting glances we see it, we feel interested enough to remain. It makes a change for a fantasy film to be bright and well-lit. Think of all the recent battles in Game Of Thrones or other series. They are dark, dirty and horrible. The violence is still here but it is more in a style that stays true to the game. You expect to see them do a strange dance or open up a group chat.
So it is a film that is not the train wreck people make it out to be. Unfortunately, there isn’t much joy if you like playing as a dwarf or elf in the game as they are badly represented in the film. Their on screen time can probably be measured in the seconds rather than minutes and this sums up the problem many have with the film. It really is an enjoyable distraction for non-fans, willing to overlook a rushed film for some enjoyable fantasy. For hardcore fans, it will be one to miss.