This weekend I saw the movie Warcraft, which is based on the World of War craft video game. I found out recently that it’s directed by Duncan Jones, who also directed one of my favorite films, Moon. That surprised me, because from the trailers, Warcraft is nothing like Moon — but it definitely made me want to see the movie even more!
Since I haven’t played World of Warcraft, I had no idea what I was getting into it. I knew it was a fantasy and featured some big, brutal-looking orcs. That’s it. My expectations were medium — it was probably going to be entertaining in that forgettable way that action popcorn flicks tend to be.
But I have to say, I kind of loved this movie. It totally exceeded those expectations. Here’s why I think it’s worth watching.
The CGI is Awesome
Pretty much half of Warcraft‘s characters are orcs, a fantasy race with occasionally green-ish skin and hulking muscles. At one point in the movie, a human man picks up the finger of an orc, and he has to wrap his whole hand around that one finger. That’s the kind of scale we’re talking about. Orcs are big.
The orcs are CGI, and honestly, this is the first time I’ve seen CGI done in a way that makes me forget all about it. Usually, it sticks out or features movements that just don’t look realistic. In Warcraft, it is presented perfectly. Each orc is given individuality, including roughed-up characteristics that add to the realism. One has a cut lip. Some have long faces and others short. Their teeth are different shapes and sizes. Each has different hair and accessories. You can kind of even see their pores. They’re not exactly pretty, but the realism of the actors’ portrayals is evident in every movement and expression. Industrial Light & Magic did a great job here.
The Characters are Well-Developed
I want to get to know these Warcraft characters more. The writers (Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt, and Chris Metzen) spent time developing them and their backstories. Despite the fact that some of their stories are told in cute little “So this is my sad story” campfire chats works just fine for me. It’s not the most exciting way to tell a story, but it feels traditional somehow, and I appreciated getting to know the characters.
Seeing Durotan, chief of the Frostwolf clan of orcs, at home with his pregnant mate in the very first scene is a strong way to kick off the conflict. Now, you have the added subplot and motivation for these characters: They are having a baby, and that’s dangerous as they march into war looking for a new home for him.
The acting in the film isn’t anything remarkable, but I enjoyed the actors’ performances and found some of the orcs’ to be especially memorable. Durotan, played by Toby Kebbell, gave my favorite performance.
The script isn’t always all that strong, but it doesn’t mean the characters are bad. For example, there’s a line where Garona, upset when a knight says he’ll protect her, says, “I need no one to protect me!” which is just one example of a corny line and even tired characterization for a strong woman character. She’s actually awesome. The script just doesn’t always do her justice.
The film is also very moving. I guess that surprised me a little, coming from an action film where I don’t even know the lore. The focus on characters made the story more emotional for me. For example, human military commander Lothar has strong relationships with his soldier son, with the mage Khadgar, and with the orc Garona — all of which affect the story and his personal catalysts. The people he trusts and the losses he suffers shape him throughout the movie.
The Story is Surprising
The basics of the story are this: The orcs world is dying, so they travel through the Dark Portal to a new place, Azeroth, land of the humans. The underlying problem is that fel magic, used by the leader of the orcs, requires draining life energy from people and the land to power it. That explains why the orc’s previous world is dead. And when the human mage, Guardian of the people and pal of the king, is corrupted by fel magic, the war brewing between orcs and humans gets a lot more complicated.
Despite not knowing anything of World of Warcraft lore going into the movie, I felt confident in understanding the basic worldbuilding in place here. The film does a great job of dropping terms and brief explanations without overwhelming the viewer or bogging down the script. The movie’s pace remains quick, yet it’s so cool to walk out of the theater feeling like you just downloaded a whole bunch of awesome Warcraft knowledge. I’m curious how true to the game it is, and what fans think of it!
My favorite thing about the story — besides the focus on characters that I mentioned — is how surprising it is. There are are great plot twists and oh-no kind of moments throughout the movie. It’s very much about each character’s honor, as well as strength in the face of corruption.
Without giving away anything major, I’ll just say that I left the movie feeling like I had a strong sense of the characters’ motivations, based on things that happen at the end of the film, and it was exciting and messed up all at once.
Now I’m ready for a sequel.