I will begin this article by saying that I am not here to give a full blown review of Warcraft: The Beginning. What I am here to do is try to synthesize why Warcraft and World of Warcraft players might adore...and dislike...the movie based on a series of games that millions have loved over the past two plus decades.
I was lucky enough to have attended the ‘World Premier of Warcraft: The Beginning’ in Hollywood this past Monday. While the movie had been in theaters in many countries around the world, this was the official black (yes, black...no Horde favoritism!) carpet gala complete with the stars of the movie and luminaries from Blizzard. Heck, even Jaime Lee Curtis came along cosplaying an orc to the delight of the gathered crowd and press corps.
There are many reasons to both like and dislike Warcraft: The Beginning, most of which were eloquently covered by our own Gareth Harmer earlier in the week. Warcraft is not a bad movie. It is not great art either. It’s probably an “OK” film at its best. There are moments of breathtaking cinema that show a glimmer of potential that may lead to a better second effort if one comes along. Simultaneously, there are awkward moments punctuated by cheek slapping facepalms, the sorts of which leads one to hope that the like will never again see the light of day if there is a sequel.
Durotan & Orgrim & Draka
The best moments in the movie belonged, not to the humans we should all identify with, but to the orcs and, in particular, to Durotan, Orgrim and Draka with Blackhand getting a nod as well for his regretful and authoritative decision to let Draka go even if it meant going against the wishes of Gul’Dan.
Durotan’s and Orgrim’s friendship in the moments they share together on screen are poignant and, well...human. We have all had “that friend”, the one that can bonk us in the head with a rock with both of us ending up laughing even in the face of tragedy or, in this case, an impending dash through a portal that may lead to disaster.
Durotan and Draka portray a realistic relationship between two parents-to-be, both softening the toughened warrior that is Durotan and showing the formidable Draka to be every bit his equal. The tenderness and concern they show towards one another and, later, to their child Go’el gives a differing perspective on what it means to be an orc in juxtaposition to the notion that all are mindless bloodthirsty monsters.
The use of motion capture was brilliant and allowed facial expressions to give vibrancy and a range of emotion to these characters -- tenderness, fear, anger, humor, concern.
Yet even in all the best that is in these relationships, fans of lore will be disappointed by inconsistencies. For example, part of the magic that is the relationship between Orgrim and Durotan is that they became friends in spite of their clans, not because they were members of the same clan, something the movie forces us to endure. While it works on one level, it is bothersome because it is such a fundamental omission.
Griffons are one of the most amazing and recognizable things in any Warcraft-based game. It is the default method of air travel for Alliance players in World of Warcraft and symbolic of the Wildhammer Dwarves who both tame and ride them into battle.
During Warcraft, the relationship between rider and beast is briefly, but poignantly, explored with Lothar. In one scene, we see the king’s champion petting his companion and playfully tugging on his beak. In another, the gryphon heeds its master’s call and is in the right place at the right moment to pluck him out of the air and speed off to protect King Llane. Finally, we see how fearsome a raptor with half the body of a lion can be in battle as the gryphon and Lothar keep an overwhelming number of orcs at bay, even just briefly.
Location, Location, Location
What wonder the names bring: Karazhan, Dalaran, Stormwind, the Dark Portal, Goldshire. These are the locations of legend for anyone who has ever set foot in a Warcraft game and they are beautifully and magically rendered in Warcraft: The Beginning. Dalaran, in particular, is breathtaking but it is seeing these locations in “real life”, in a living breathing nearly actual, state that gives Warcraft: The Beginning some of its most magical moments.
Of course, beauty and wonder come at a price given the way that lore has been played with in a fast and loose way -- after all, Dalaran as a floating entity was not present during the timeline of the movie. Still, separating the lore master from the giddy viewer, the presentation of locations within the games is magnificent to behold.
Battles & Magic
Battle is portrayed in all its beautiful savagery. The massive creatures that orcs are and how easily they plow through the smaller, weaker humans is achingly shown in the film. While not overly gruesome, there is no question that the devastation left behind is bloody and visceral in every sense of the word. The sights and sounds of war draws the viewer in, wincing along the way.
Magic is also shown to good effect in a way that is satisfying to people who have played the games. The concentrated effort that Medivh goes through to cast a spell to stop a marauding war party is only eclipsed by the explosive lightning that bursts from his fingertips to toss orcs into the air like so many toy soldiers without harming his allies. Gul’Dan sucking the life from helpless caged Draenei to fuel the magic to open the Dark Portal is breathtakingly horrifying. But to a player it all feels right and lends itself to a moment of thinking, “Yeah, that’s exactly how it would be!”
The Little Things
Lastly, there are all those tiny things that people familiar with the series will see and recognize. Lothar riding to Goldshire to meet with the king crosses a fast moving stream with a murloc standing on a rock spouting off the obligatory “Mmmrrrrggglll” brings a quick smile. A Stormwind guard being turned into a sheep by Khadgar and being told that it only happens to the “simple minded” is a definite laugh out loud moment, particularly for arena players who are routinely cc’d by thoughtless mages. The job board in Stormwind; the sight of the great library in Karazhan; the typical orcish guard towers complete with rickety ramps and red painted roofs; Medivh’s servant Moroes -- all of these and many, many more serve to give players a reason to keep a close eye on all that is on the screen rather than just the faces of the actors.
That’s what it really comes down to in the end - the small and big nods to games we have all loved and played with abandon at some point in our lives. Some will love the movie just as it is. Some will hate it equally as much. Others will choose the middle road and take the things that it does well, that mean something to them as players, and who will accept it for what it is: A decent first effort that is fun to watch despite all of its flaws.