Reel Talk

Warcraft is a Fascinating Misfire

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I’ve discussed before on the site that I have a strong affinity for fantasy stories. I’ve kind of always been obsessed with them, and spent a large portion of my childhood tearing through terrible paperbacks of weird stories. I of course hit the mainstays, like the Chronicles of Narnia, the Neverending Story, and the Lord of the Rings. But I went into much weirder territory as time went on, creating a whole plethora of barely remembered fantasy worlds that are floating around in my head. Hell, I was even planning on writing my own fantasy series as a kid, going so far as to have drawn maps, created religions, political factions, races, and all sorts of other building blocks that these little stories that I played in my head could use. So I’m always on board for more fantasy in the mainstream world. I really though that were were going to get a resurgence in fantasy films when the Lord of the Rings movies were so popular, but that never really happened. Not even the success of Game of Thrones has really pushed that much fantasy through into the world. But then we started hearing that they were making a big-budget film set in the Warcraft universe, from the popular video games, and it would be directed by none other than Duncan Jones. Which is a truly bizarre and intriguing pick for a director. It’s pretty obvious at this point but, c’mon, have you seen Moon? That movie’s a goddamn masterpiece. Jones is a great directed (and David Bowie’s son!) and he’s a person that I probably would have given a shot at just about anything he’d direct. So even though I have absolutely no experience with the Warcraft world, I figured I would check this movie out, and see if we’re in for a new age of fantasy flicks.

And, well, it’s not great. I’ve heard some critics throwing some serious shade at this movie, giving it absolutely terrible reviews. And I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not a terrible movie, it’s just not a very good one. Now, like I said, I have zero attachment to the Warcraft franchise, and I have no idea if this is a loose retelling of the old RTS games, or if it’s the plot of the World of Warcraft MMO, or a wholly original plot. I also don’t have the patience to keep calling the characters by their weird names. Mainly because they’re all spelled so strangely, and I’m already a terrible speller to begin with. So, let’s talk about the plot!

The central premise of the movie revolves around two men. The chief of a tribe of Orcs, and human knight who is in close with the king of the human civilization. The Orcs come from a world that has been blighted, and are following a mighty wizard who is able to use some sort of deadly magic called the Fel, that’s able to make the Orcs incredibly powerful, at the cost of their planet. So they use the Fel to travel to the planet the humans are from, and decide to take that over. And they do pretty great, being gigantic rage-monsters that can just smush the puny humans. Which obviously causes the humans to freak the hell out, and declare war on the Orcs. So the King sends the human protagonist and some obnoxious little hipster wizard to go visit the human’s most powerful magic-user, who is obviously going to betray them, since he’s played by Ben Foster. So the humans and the Orcs begin warring, while the humans are able to capture a woman who is some sort of half-orc, and hated by both sides, who then starts to have a strange and uncomfortable love story with the human protagonist. And as the Orcs continue to win, the Orc chieftain is getting increasingly wary of the obviously evil wizard who is in charge of his whole race, realizing that they may be the bad guys.

So the Orc chieftain has the half-orc lady call a meeting between the human leadership and his tribe, where they agree to join forces and kill the evil wizard. Which does not go well when the evil wizard’s Orcs show up, and cause a big battle, making no one trust anyone. The Orc chieftain is thrown in a little jail for sedition, and the knight is trying to convince the king that they should stop listening to the obviously evil Ben Foster, and focus all of their strength on destroying the Orc Wizard’s magic gateway which will allow all the Orcs from the ruined world to come help take over their pretty world. And then shit starts to fall apart. The Orc chieftain challenges the wizard to some sort of combat, which the wizard blatantly cheats and kills the chieftain, the chieftain’s wife dies after sticking her baby in a basket and sending him down a river like Moses, Ben Foster admits that he’s evil and in league with this Fel nonsense, and the king and his forces go to die in Orc town. But the day is marginally saved when hipster wizard kills Ben Foster, weakening the Fel, just in time for the King to ask the half-orc lady to kill him and become their leader, so she can bring about peace. The knight shows up on his griffon, pissed that the half-orc lady killed his friend the King, and goes off to become the new king and start a big old genocidal war that I think is the premise of World of Warcraft.

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Yeah, this movie didn’t quite work. There were some things I really liked about it, and if this movie’s success gives us more crazy fantasy movies I hope it dominates the box office. But there are also a whole lot of problems that seriously ankle this movie. Let’s get to that stuff first! Now, while the CGI is pretty good in the movie, I really don’t understand why movies that are this full of CG don’t just become animated movies. I don’t see any point in having human actors in the movie, and it may have been even better if it was just a straight animated movie. And it especially became apparent when there were whole segments that seemed to just be in the movie to make people say “hey, that looks like the old RTS games did!”  Okay, now I’m sure this movie had a seriously huge budget, causing them to do the same thing as Pacific Rim where they filled this huge movie with a whole mess of lesser actors. That probably sounds really mean, and I usually try to stay positive, and it’s never nice to judge people’s acting when I don’t know how to do it, but c’mon, there’s a lot of wonky acting in this movie. Oddly, mostly from the humans. Basically all of the Orcs did a good job, and the CG was shockingly great, creating some real and emotional performances. But basically every one of the humans was acting like they had no patience for the bullshit they were being forced to say. But, even if the acting was dynamite in this movie, the plot would still have been a huge problem. Like I said, I have no previous knowledge of the Warcraft universe, so I don’t know if this is accurate or anything, but it seriously felt like I was missing something the whole time. It certainly took a lot of guts to just toss us into the deep end and let us figure out what’s going on, but this movie seriously felt like it was a whole trilogy stuffed into one movie. And while there was some really interesting aspects of the storyline that I’ll get to later, there were also a lot of really lame fantasy tropes. I think we’re far past the time that we can seriously have fantasy movies that fully revolve around chosen ones, but as best as I could parse the whole hipster wizard plot, that’s exactly what we got. He was clearly following some sort of mystical path to save the world with the help of that weird black magical box thing. And we didn’t really need the weird love plot between the Knight and the half-orc lady. It was really out of left-field, and didn’t really lead anywhere other than a bunch of misunderstandings at the end that will lead to a horrible war.

But that’s enough negativity for now. There’s more issues with the film, but let’s at least try to stay positive. First off, I really loved the central premise of the movie. Things got bad as things went on, with all the stuff I previously mentioned, but I really found the allegories this movie was trying to pull pretty great. The plot was basically about a twisted religious zealot tricking a fearful and angry population into war rather than dwell on reality. And then some white people find these people who look different than them, and automatically decide they need to die. Yeah, you would think that during that doomed meeting the Orc chieftain would maybe try to get it across to the humans that the whole reason they were in this world was to be safe and all they wanted to do was carve some safe place for themselves. That would probably be a good idea. But other than that, I really found the idea of making this movie about religious extremism, an immigration crisis, and environmental issues was a really bold movie. It would have been better if they focused more on these things, and left some of the weird evil wizard nonsense and the phony love plot behind, but hey, baby steps.Plus I really liked the aesthetics of the movie. It’s bright, colorful, and a little cartoony. They’re wearing ridiculous, cumbersome armor that isn’t realistic in the slightest. And I love that. Fantasy is silly as hell, and I loved seeing a huge, crazy movie where people are throwing spells at each other and huge monsters are smashing little humans with big hammers. I love that. So, even though this movie didn’t work for me in the slightest, and just felt like a massive misfire, I’m fully on board with more of these movies being made. Maybe not Warcraft movies, but hey, we have to start somewhere to get more fun fantasy movies.

Warcraft was written by Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones, directed by Duncan Jones, and distributed by Universal Pictures, 2016.

WarcraftOrc

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