Warcraft is one of the best video game-based movies I’ve ever seen.
I know that sounds like damning praise, which is understandable given flops like Super Mario Bros., Prince of Persia, Street Fighter (both of them), and so many more. Many of those flicks are bad because they stray too far from the source material. Others suck because they look cheap.
Warcraft has neither of those problems. It’s filled with recognizable characters that fans love, and while its plot isn’t an exact duplicate from the games, its story has many of the same beats. It also features plenty of slick special effects. Some of the computer-generated characters are hit and miss — the orcs look great, but a stone golem that appears later in the film looks like a cheap cartoon character. But the movie’s landscapes, especially long shots of locations like the floating city of Dalaran, look magical.
The movie also features plenty of nods and winks to fans that, as someone who grew up with these games, I enjoyed. I don’t want to give away some of the film’s surprises, but recognizable spells and races from the games make amusing appearances. I was also happy to hear that the film’s score borrowed melodies from the games, including the iconic theme for the Alliance capital of Stormwind.
I’m not saying that Warcraft is a great movie. It’s an entertaining ride full of fan service and likable characters, but it never comes together as something worth more than a single viewing. It’s certainly an ambitious film. It has a lot of characters, many who could have been the central star: Durotan, the leader of the Frostwolves clan of orcs that’s skeptical of the new, dark ways of his people; Garona, the half-orc that finds herself switching sides; Lothar, a warrior that’s able to beat the brutal orcs with his wits, and Khadgar, a young mage trying to help save the world.
Any of them could have been a strong central character. Instead, they all are. And simultaneously, none of them are. Some movies are able to switch focus between multiple characters. Another fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings, comes to mind. Warcraft, however, is so fast-paced that the constant shift of focus becomes jarring. It’s obsessed with showing both sides of the conflict in a sympathetic light. That’s admirable, but it also makes it harder to get behind any one side.
The movie also has a surprisingly dower tone. The Warcraft games have a lot of silly elements. The film has some comedic moments, but it has a too large of a body count to feel like a light-hearted adventure. They really put the war in Warcraft. The amount of on-screen deaths keep it from being a “stand up and cheer” movie like Star Wars, but it’s also too formulaic and unfocused to be a serious look at the evils of war.
It really feels like a movie made for fans. The movie goes out of its way to incorporate elements familiar to anyone who played the games. It has one short scene that takes place in Ironforge just because, well, people like Ironforge. I’m not complaining. I like Ironforge, too. It was cool to see it realized in a movie. The same goes for Stormwind, the Dark Portal, Karazan, and other locations I’ve explored in World of Warcraft.
Fan service aside, Warcraft is enjoyable. The actors did a fine job playing these outlandish characters without coming off as ridiculous. However, it spent too much time setting up a sequel when it would have been nice to have more scenes that slowed things down.
Still, unlike most video game movies, it didn’t make me cringe with embarrassment.