Look, you all know the thing about video game movies. They are usually rather terrible and it’s a blessing when they are merely mediocre like the recent Angry Birds Movie was. However there has been hope in recent years that we may finally get some good ones. The people raised on video games are reaching an age where they wield some power in Hollywood, and they want to see their favourite characters on the big screen done properly, so not done by Uwe Boll. The film many had high hopes of being the first good video game movie was Warcraft: The Beginning but can it reach that not so lofty ambition.
With their own world being destroyed, the orcs led by the powerful warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu, Europa Report) transfer through a portal into the world of Azeroth. They soon start to wage war on the humans there, though both may soon be torn apart by the fel magic they are using to try and defeat each other.
The thing that is instantly striking about the film is the visual style, which is awesome to just gawp at. Warcraft: The Beginning certainly looks like a big budget cousin of the games it is based on, and the director Duncan Jones (Moon) obviously put in a lot of hard work to make sure that everything looked just right and that only the pickiest of fans could ever find something wrong with it. That goes for all the massive CGI vistas which the orcs and humans do battle in, the gigantic internal sets where humans usually talk gibberish and even the costumes that they wear, which are just gorgeous to look at. Yeah, the humans battle armour does look a bit unwieldy and that it actually won’t help, but it does look awesome so who cares?
But weirdly, that’s also a sort of flaw too because things look a bit too perfect. Firstly the film leans on those CGI vistas a bit too much and it is made obvious early on that most of the film was done on green screen, which ends up making you less invested as if the world these characters inhabit doesn’t feel real, why should you care if it is destroyed? The sets and costumes also feel too clean, like they’ve never been lived in. They are all exquisitely built and a tremendous amount of work has been done by the people behind the film, but every set for how beautiful it looks, looks like a set. It never feels real.
And that’s before we get to the biggest flaw of Warcraft: The Beginning. It’s a narrative mess which powers a whole tonne of information at you in such a short amount of time, it’s nigh on impossible to get everything that’s going on. And so within about half an hour, you are completely lost as to what’s going on while these characters go on about places and characters that you might have seen, but maybe not. Who knows? It’s a crapshoot. I’m sure if I picked out plot holes, some Warcraft fan would tell me it is explained in the video games, but that’s the issue. In order to enjoy a film, I shouldn’t have to invest hours in a video game, much like I don’t need to read the Harry Potter books to enjoy the film. This film does assume you have an intimate knowledge of the video games and while the franchise is very popular, most haven’t. A high-end fantasy universe is hard enough sell to us normies without making us head to a Wikia to get the film we’re watching.
And honestly, the whole narrative mess means the very simple beats the film goes for are completely missed as well. I feel as if we could get past all the lore that there would quite a nice symmetry between the orc Durotan (Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) caring for his newborn son and Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel, Vikings) hoping to make his son Callan (Burkely Duffield, Beyond) into a great warrior. Both of these sub-plots do have well-directed moments and there is an attempt by the actors to get some emotion out in these scenes. But they are buried under so much lore and the keenness by Jones and co to make this the beginning of a franchise and not a great film on its own means the emotion has simply gone.
And that’s not to say there isn’t any good in Warcraft. There is a certain epicness to the battles which shows this film had some real potential and they’d probably be some of the best scenes put to film this year if they had the emotional consequences to back them up. Toby Kebbell also shows that he is a strong motion capture performer, meaning that he’s going to be the guy Hollywood calls when Andy Serkis isn’t available. It’s a shame he usually ends up attached to these summer flops, see Fantastic Four.
If you already have a deep understanding to the lore, you might end up enjoying Warcraft: The Beginning as you will actually understand what the hell some of these people are saying. But for the rest of us, this is just a confusing mess. The film has no sympathy to anyone who doesn’t know what an orc is and why they would rather kill first rather than maybe negotiate a peace deal with the humans they’ve encountered in this new world. It simply plunges us headfirst into this bizarre world and expects us to swim like Michael Phelps but instead we end up drowning and fighting for our life in a sea of lore.