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It’s more fun than spending weeks, months, and years playing a videogame while your real life wastes away. Barely.

by Thom Yee

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Warcraft images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Objectivity is a funny thing. Actually, it’s not funny, that’s what makes it objective.  When it comes to important matters, objectivity is something we strive for in order to reach the most informed, most balanced, and hopefully best conclusions we can. Objectivity can save us from making poor decisions and it can ensure that the paths we choose are the best ones for all involved. Last weekend, not a lot of people chose to go see Warcraft, and though many based that decision at least partly on the most objective data available, critic scores, many more made that decision on some fairly conventional wisdom: Videogame movies are never good.

When you’re talking about a genre where the Mortal Kombat movie is frequently cited as the best example of the form, it’s really not surprising that any videogame-based movie, no matter the fan-following, would be met with resistance if not outright disdain and derision, but, objectively, there’s nothing about Warcraft that specifically defines it as a movie that will be bad. There’s nothing about the source material that negates the possibility of a good story, there’s nothing about its visuals that clash with our cinematic expectations, there’s nothing about the property’s trappings that would prevent it from being fascinating. In fact, in the case of Warcraft and its relatively deep mythology, all of those things are most likely assets with the potential to attract a large audience that wouldn’t even care about it’s origins as a videogame, and yet we all knew, based largely on the evidence of its videogame predecessors, that it would be a bad movie.

That’s called baggage, and a movie like Warcraft is going to come with a lot of it given what most people already think not only of videogame movies but of videogames, videogame culture, and especially online role-playing games that frequently demand so much of their players that they would willingly (and happily) forego many of the basic elements of life like cleanliness or dignity.

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But I could also tell you that, despite all of this baggage and all of these opportunities for preconception, there are reasons to believe that Warcraft could be a good movie. Or at least there’s one reason: It’s director is Duncan Jones. Duncan Jones may not be a household name (and who knows, after Warcraft’s domestic earnings, he may never become one), but he is the director of two very well-received sci-fi movies, and at least for movie nerds like me, that was enough reason to give Warcraft a shot. He’s also the son of David Bowie, so for the rest of you non-nerds, that should be enough to throw whatever your remaining objectivity you may have had right out the window.

What’s it about?

With Draenor, their home world, dying, the orcs form a mighty Horde under the sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) who opens a portal for his people to invade the world of Azeroth. Azeroth, however, is a land already more than populated by humans, leading to conflict between the two races. War, despair, and hilarious misunderstandings ensue.

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Hey kids, remember sprites?

Of course, version of Warcraft most people are familiar with is the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, 2004’s World of Warcraft, an MMORPG that enjoys enormous success even now, more than ten years later, but the franchise’s origins lie in an earlier, darker age, known to man and beast alike as the early 1990s. It is in this ancient time of VHS tapes, compact discs, and command-line user interfaces that the first Warcraft game debuted, distributed, as these things were, on an archaic and, frankly, embarrassing format known as “physical media”, but it wasn’t until Warcraft II that I, a son of the ‘90s, was introduced to the franchise. Instead of the persistent, online, character-driven experience of World of Warcraft, the first Warcrafts were real-time strategy games (i.e., explore map/chop wood/mine gold/build structure/form army/attack/go to next map), and I distinctly remember the only time I ever felt fear [of losing] in that game was when I would hear the occasional “We are under attack” when the opposing group used magic because those were the only attacks that could hurt me. Because I always used cheat codes. Because I’m a big cheater. And that’s about the extent of my gaming experience with Warcraft.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the story being told here is from early in the series, well before the franchise gained the majority of its die-hard fans, and that seems like kind of a puzzling move for this first attempt in building a new movie franchise. Surely there must have been some more contemporary, more audience appropriate, and more relevant story material to mine. Rather than picking up from a place of familiarity for its biggest fans from the World of Warcraft period, the producers instead went with the very beginnings of the human-orc conflict of the first Warcraft. On the other hand… I don’t know, I don’t really know anything about the franchise’s backstory, so maybe picking up from the war’s outset makes the most sense. It certainly had to make sense to someone in charge. They must have thought this thing through, right?

Is it any good?

warcraft-portal

That portal sure is evil looking. Are you sure it will save our society?

If we’re sticking closely to what’s usually implied by the term ANY GOOD, then I would say that Warcraft is good. It’s a good-enough-looking movie, with some good enough action scenes, some good enough character motivations, and a just barely good enough story to follow. In all the ways that absolutely matter, Warcraft is exactly, almost precisely good enough, and so I would have to answer the header question, “Is it any good?” with a yes. (Though, technically, I can’t directly answer the question because I can’t say “Yes, Warcraft is “any good.”, though that’s more a failing of the language and our use of it than anything else. Anyway.)

But is “good enough” really good enough? I mean, of course it is, it’s literally the same words, but if you were asking me if it’s worth your time, that’s a question with a very different answer, and for most people, I think I’d have to say “No, don’t see it.” Its action scenes are interesting, but they’re not really engaging, its characters have motivation, but I wasn’t motivated enough to care that much about what they did or what became of them, and its story has enough depth and potentially intriguing elements, but it rarely reaches very far or does anything surprising. I also said it’s a good enough looking, but it’s primarily so in the bright, flashy images sense rather than having a deep or lush or atmospheric appearance, and in some ways its colourful looks make it feel little more “made for TV” than “you have to see it on the big screen”.

warcraft-garona

How you doing?

The story behind Warcraft is an intriguing and relatable one, and there are times when the movie plays it just right in making us feel something towards the main characters, particularly when we first meet Durotan, his wife, their impending child, and the warmth of their family or when Lothar, Khadgar, and Garona find some odd points of commonality as they discuss the mage Khadghar’s attraction to the orc Garona (who, even in green and with giant protruding teeth, does look really hot throughout most of the movie), but there are just as many if not more times when we’re just waiting until the next battle, none of which really come close to matching the better battle scenes that can be found in other fantasy movies. When it comes to the characters, some are reasonably well realized while others are weirdly hollow and sometimes even annoying, and it largely comes down to which of the characters were played by Americans, as Lothar (played by an Australian), Wrynn (played by an Englishman), and Durotan (also played by an Englishman) all acquit themselves reasonably well, while all of Khadgar, Medivh, and Garona can be distractingly bad.

Really though, one of the biggest questions a Warcraft movie has to answer is one of accessibility, and, particularly with the fantasy genre and the size of the backstory this movie is playing with, it’s hard not to think back to The Lord of the Rings and my first time watching those movies. Honestly, after seeing The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, I kind of didn’t know why it had such praise or why it became such a big deal as I really didn’t feel the scale of the adventure as the fellowship made its way through the Mines of Moria or the depth of emotion after Gandalf died [spoiler alert?]. To me, Fellowship hadn’t yet earned those moments, not because they weren’t done well but because I still hadn’t become attached to these characters or this world, but when I later saw The Two Towers, almost immediately after that movie started I felt much more invested, and I really think a lot of the reason for that massive shift in my appreciation of The Lord of the Rings simply came from the year-long wait between installments. Fellowship was just one of those movies with enough in the way of endearing characters, interesting moments, and a deep backstory that it could naturally linger and grow in my mind over the course of the year. In comparison, Warcraft is just as easy to understand as Fellowship, maybe even more so, but I would be surprised if I ever give the movie much more thought after having seen it.

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American actors go home!

So should I see it?

The early verbal when it came to Warcraft was primarily concerned with the quality of the movie, and while the notion of Warcraft being this summer’s biggest box office bomb gained significant traction early after its release, more recently the talk has shifted towards how well the movie’s done in foreign markets, particularly in China, and that’s going to continue to be a big motivating factor with a lot of the choices studios make with these types of globe-spanning franchises going forward. It’s these changing new market conditions that will allow North American box office busts like Warcraft to continue, and while, objectively, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, (in some cases it may be a very, very good thing) it’s also the type of thing that leads to more Transformers movies being made, so clearly there are no easy answers.

If you’re honestly thinking about seeing Warcraft, I would say go for it, it’s not bad, at least not offensively so, but if the thought hadn’t crossed your mind and/or you’ve never really thought much about Warcraft before, you’re probably better off continuing in that fashion.

Thom’s Warcraft final score

2.5


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