Review: Warcraft Is Boggled Down By Exposition
Director: Duncan Jones
Screenwriter: Duncan Jones (screenplay), Charles Leavitt (screenplay), and Chris Metzen (story and characters)
Principal Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, and Robert Kazinsky
Summary: The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.
There is a fundamental thing that I believe a lot of people fail at when adapting something from one medium to another; they don’t understand that you can’t just adapt something without changing it. A movie is not consumed the same as a book, you don’t watch a play the same way you play a video game and even a comic is not read the same way as a book. This is why so many adaptations fail. Les Miserables several years ago was shot like a broadway play which meant that there were long takes focusing on the characters faces which makes sense on a stage because the audiences’ eyes gravitate to the person singing. In a movie just holding the camera there was boring. I had my worries for Warcraft that this would be yet another adaptation that failed to adapt from one medium to another.
Warcraft isn’t nearly the trainwreck that everyone is saying it is but its ambitions far exceed its reach.
If there is one thing that you can’t level at Warcraft is a misunderstanding of the source material. Unlike other adaptations there isn’t a hint that director and writer, with backup from writer Charles Leavitt, aren’t familiar with the source material. The world of Azeroth has been so meticulously recreated that you have to give the people at WETA and the special effects team credit. A fan of the lore and the series are going to find a lot of details that they are going to enjoy. There is a large scope here but the movie seems to take an almost “tunnel vision” approach to the storytelling. Instead of focusing on the many different conflicts that are in Azeroth the movie instead focuses on the war between the humans and the orcs. This conflict feels like something that could have been told in an opening prologue and then another story could have been told for the bulk of the movie. The problem is the war between the orcs and the humans isn’t really that interesting.
I can see the nebulous intent behind Warcraft; much like Captain America: Civil War this movie is trying to paint neither side as truly right or wrong. If not that then they are least trying to humanize (ironically) the orcs enough that we can sympathize with them. That kind of ambiguity is hard to pull off and the movie reaches for the sky and barely gets ten feet off the ground. Instead of two faction that are at war while both looking equally right you have two factions that seem so stupid that they can’t see what is right in front of them. This is made even more frustrating by the sheer amount of exposition in that no characters are given a chance to develop. The movie doesn’t have a single female of note in it. Garona (Paula Patton) is nothing more than a classic hero maiden and Ruth Negga stands around doing absolutely nothing for the entire movie.
If it sounds like I hate this movie I really don’t. The orcs are incredible looking even if it took some time for me to get used to them and the design is almost universally gorgeous. I couldn’t tell you what a single character’s name was but they don’t seem to really matter. The thing is the movie gets better when it lets itself make fun of itself a little. For as beautiful as everything is the design is still silly looking and the movie is better when it embraces that silliness. I’m not saying it should have jumped into full blown satire or mockery, but you can feel the movie get worse every time it tries to become a serious production again. Jones clearly loves all of this, but even the most diehard Blizzard and Warcraft fans can tell you it’s all a little goofy. That edge of self awareness, combined with more over the top battles, could have made it a fun movie to watch. As it is the battles are few and far between as we jerk back to various characters explaining the movie for the third time.
Warcraft isn’t as bad as I thought it could have been, but I also know that I went in with almost no expectations and a love for this silly sort of fantasy genre. Duncan Jones is an amazing director who will win an Oscar someday, and he needs a huge blockbuster series under his belt, but this isn’t a great start. Perhaps if this one makes enough money they can sort out the story and tone and give it another shot.