'Warcraft' Review: No Mere "Stale Fantasy Trope"
The troubled story of 'Warcraft' has seen the film move through many different versions, with Duncan Jones swiftly adapting what he described as a "stale fantasy trope" of humans against orcs.
The story of Warcraft begins in 1994, with the release of the first Warcraft PC game. Since then, the franchise has expanded across a seemingly never ending range of games, novels, MMORPGs and even a digital collectible card game! But this year, Warcraft is making its way to the big screen.
The film has been a long time coming; it was first announced in 2006, and is only releasing a decade later. The troubled story of Warcraft has seen the film move through many different versions, with Duncan Jones swiftly adapting what he described as a "stale fantasy trope" of humans against orcs, with the humans as the heroes, the orcs as the villains. He was interested in doing a rather more nuanced fantasy tale, with a 50/50 split.
In that, Warcraft is a tremendous success. Legendary Pictures has succeeded in creating a plot where you can root for members of both sides, as an insidious evil brings the orcs to Azeroth. Not all of the orcs have been corrupted by the dark magic, though, and soon human warrior Lothar (played by Travis Fimmel) is allying with orc warrior-woman Garona (played by Paula Patton). There's an enjoyable inter-species romance between the two, and the most pleasing part about that subplot is how little it's commented on by other characters.
The magic is realised effectively, with there being a very visible range in terms of sorcerous power. Medivh, Guardian of Tirisfal, is a fascinating character and is played with real power and charisma by Ben Foster. In contrast, Ben Schnetzer's Khadgar - while still impressive - is portrayed as far weaker than his mentor. That becomes a major plot, as the story weaves ever-deeper into the magic that is corrupting Azeroth - and has already destroyed the orc homeworld of Draenor.
In terms of scale, Warcraft attempts to create a world every bit as iconic as Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings - but sadly isn't entirely successful. The movie spins across countless different locations - many lifted straight from the games, but somehow it all feels quite disjointed. Perhaps it's something to do with the attempt to do too much - we spin from orc camps to cities in the sky, and the use of portals to move at speed means the world of Azeroth feels far smaller than it should do. That said, the film encourages us to take these portals for granted; this makes the resolution, where a portal is particularly important, very satisfying indeed.
I won't lie, Warcraft is hardly the best fantasy film of the decade. Although it tries to build a world, instead it gives us scattered locations - just as you'd expect in a game, where you move from one location to another at speed, ready for the next step in your journey. It does succeed in avoiding the traditional fantasy trope of "humans are good, orcs are bad", which is a massive achievement. It also gives us some fairly well-rounded characters, and the CGI (essential in such a sword-and-sorcery style plot) is acceptable. There's a lot to like, and the film clearly sets up a possible franchise, but I'm simply not too sure the film will perform well enough to serve as a launchpad for a sequel.
Although we've seen the human-against-orc dynamic before, and although gamers will be familiar with the world more than most viewers, I think this film deserves a measure of success. It has some real original and creative touches to it, and the character-work is fairly strong. Time will tell how well Warcraft performs in the Box Office...