Sunday, September 25, 2016

Warcraft (2016) review

    I don't know why this movie got such bad reviews. Oh yes, I do. This is a movie which is unashamed to be a video game movie. It treats its lore with the kind of reverence and seriousness that fans have given the franchise for decades. This is a movie with all of the major characters from the first Warcraft game as well as much of the lore from the novels. The story is streamlined but it's probably a more faithful adaptation than anyone should have expected.

    In my opinion, the biggest problem with the  movie is it doesn't make any attempt to apologize for being a serious movie about gigantic cartoon CGI orcs beating the hell out of griffon-riding humans while fighting in a rainbow of magical energies. It is also fairly heavy on fidelity to the cartoonish designs of World of Warcraft but treats them completely serious, which may have thrown causal movie goers.

The humans and CGI creations have a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" seamlessness.
    The premise of the movie is the original Warcraft's. The world of Draenor is dying due to the use of Fel magic by the warlock Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) and his philosophers. Constructing a gigantic magical gate powered by the life-force of imprisoned Draenei, they invade the world of Azeroth. Durotan (Clancy Brown) fears the use of Fel will destroy this world too and attempts to make an alliance with the humans.

    Simultaneously, Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) is summoned by his king, Llane (Dominic Cooper), to deal with the threat. He reluctantly befriends Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton) in their quest to prevent the orcs from overruning Azeroth. They enlist the help of the clearly unginged Medivh (Ben Foster) who starts leading the group into increasingly perilous events. Alliances shift and prejudices form with neither side having access to the moral high ground.

The movie really rebuttals alot of the design decisions of the Peter Jackson films. Just like the games.
    Now, I'm very familiar with Warcraft's lore from both the games as well as the spin-off fiction. There's a lot that's changed but it's mostly minor stuff. Travis Fimmel plays Lothar as more akin to Ragnar Lothbrook than a studious older paladin but his clever sarcastic tactician is easily the most interesting character in the movie. Clancy Brown also manages a very subdued and dignified performance playing a character completely composed of pixels.

    The movie is going to surprise people expecting the orcs to be portrayed as completely evil monsters as it opens with the birth of Thrall. It's an obvious humanizing, for lack of a better term, but works well in establishing these orcs are a people like any other. Some may argue it would have been better to have the orcs be actors in makeup but I think the designs of this movie are stunning. The CGI of this film really does reach classic age of animation levels and if it may be off-putting to some, I give it props.

Paula Patton is quite fun as She-Hulk meets Sheena of the Jungle.
        Unfortunately, the movie isn't quite as good as it could have been because the film is trying to cram the entirety of the video game's plot into two hours. This would be fine if it was focused on just the humans but the orcs have their own story arcs set up for what is probably going to be either a sequel focused on the Second Orc and Human War or the rise of the Lich King. The fact the movie cuts off before the orcs destroy Stormwind also deprives the film of a enjoyably depressing ending.

    We've got Durotan, Ogrim Doomhammer, Blackhand, Gul'Dan, Medihv's issues with the Fel, the hidden hand of the Burning Legion, the set up of Varian Wynne's rise to power (who is the worst character in Warcraft history--God, I hate him!), Khadgar's role as the future Guardian, Garona's parentage, and alll the complicated plot which will only partially play out on screen. In short, the movie suffers from the fact it is trying to condense the first two games as well as the redemption of the orcs plus all of the backstory retcons from World of Warcraft into a single film.

Some truly beautiful animation here.
    Despite this, it's a fairly coherent narrative and that's an improvement over World of Wacraft these days. There's two fundamentally decent groups of people who are being led into a situation where the only option is war. The orcs have an evil leader in Gul'dan but their world is dying so they will do anything to survive. The humans are just defending their lands against the orcs but they have unwittingly got their own dark forces brewing in the background.

    Honestly, I like Garona's story best out of the movie's characters. Starting as the slave of Gul'dan, she is a woman who is not part of the orcish world but desperately wishes she could be. The humans accept her, better than she ever expected from her own people, but they're not who she wants to be with. Watching her deal with that struggle and how she plays off of the humans in the group is quite entertaining. I also like her unexpected friendship with the Queen of Stormwind.

Orcs vs. Humans.
    The CGI for the movie is beautiful when it's handling the actual characters and hampered only by the fact the designs are very stylized. High Elves, for example, look ridiculous but they also look identical to how they look in the game. The magic is one of the few weak areas of the movie since it seems to consist purely of colors rather than anything of substance. Despite this, I felt the orcs and other monsters looked absolutely real. There is some impressive artistry here and the creators deserve major props.

    In short, Warcraft is a decent movie. It's not an amazing film but it's certainly worth the money I paid to watch it and I may end up buying it. It's the kind of film you could watch numerous times and not have to really think too much about but deep enough to be appreciated on a more than superficial level. Obviously, fans of the games and their lore will get more out of this film than the causal moviegoer.


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