Matinee Price – for fans only
Full disclosure: Unusually for me, I read some reviews before seeing this film. My companion had gone to a screening when they were still completing the effects, and had told me some impressions from then, including some tweaks made since. I have played Warcraft for 10 years (Horde, of course) and I read the novel that describes events right before those of this film. I was reminded of a thing from a long-ago expansion that explained Garona, a character I already knew was a troubling mystery. I have ardently loved Duncan Jones since about frame 2 of Moon, so I want him to succeed. So I went in ready to defend this movie Warcraft, which has been trashed by critics.
Long story short, it’s a movie for fans only. It wants to be more, but it’s definitely not. I followed it perfectly well, I enjoyed putting faces to characters of lore who were previously just place names (Khadgar is a flower), and I found all the character’s motivations very clear. I even enjoyed the unsettling realization that my faction earned their villainous reputation because of the power-mad Gul’Dan’s work unleashing the fel energies, and that it’s “our fault” half the zones we quest through as we level are boring deserts and/or green-puddled nightmare factories. But we’re nice orcs, see, even if our skin is green, you know, like baby Thrall!
Watching it with a critic’s eye, I can see how non-players would be distracted and even annoyed by the orc character design – the sexual dimorphism of that race in particular makes for some unsettling images when you consider the practicalities of breeding. Unfortunately, to be true to the game, you have to have these insanely hulking creatures with impractical tusks forcing mouth breathing and limiting plosives. I’m sure some conlangers were in the audience writhing in frustration at the phonemes coming through those impeded mouths. The rationale for the greenness or not-greenness was obvious to me, but apparently every other reviewer failed to notice what was pointed out multiple times: orcs who use the fel energy go green and go bad, and the good guy orcs are more brown-skinned. Easy! Fel magic is bad, m’kay?
The humans are, both in the game and in the film, kind of hackneyed and boring, because of course they are. Lacking the interesting back stories of the non-human races, there is no interesting culture to imbue them with, except maybe mage-clan the Kirin Tor (not explained in the movie nor honestly that well in the game for non-raiders). Why is the leader of the Kirin Tor exhibiting druid traits? Does it matter if non-players can’t tell the difference between a druid and a mage? Is Alodi the same as A’dal? And Dalaran shouldn’t be floating yet! Also: Glenn Close?! My distractions in the film boiled down to those kinds of things, but I thought the internal conflict among the orcs was dramatic and interesting, as was the fragile détente in Act III.
Garona, the controversial hybrid who basically carries the plot on her greenish brown shoulders, was well-played by Paula Patton, though she was put in annoying situations that made me cringe and if you didn’t know humans had actually visited Draenor, you would be annoyed.
I cared about her and Khadgar and Durotan, and I gained insight into the Azeroth I’ve been plunking ineffectually through for a decade. That is why I see a movie like this, though I’d have liked to see more locations I was familiar with. I enjoyed the visual easter eggs left for the player fans and the music was a great blend of Jason Hayes’ original compositions and more lush cinematic scoring. If you play, or if you want to play, check it out. But it is what it is – an expansion of a piece of lore, made by deep fans for deeper fans, and it is not for the uninitiated.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release date: 6/10/16
Time in minutes: 123
Director: Duncan Jones