VOD Review: Warcraft.
A video game cash-in with a bloated plot, poor acting, and hollow action. And shitty beards. Many, many shitty beards.
In our yearly wrap up, this movie got mentioned quite a few times. Not for any good reasons. If any movie was the poster child for what went wrong in 2016, Warcraft was that movie. The CG was a mess, the story was incomprehensible unless you had Wikipedia open in front of you, the acting was second-rate, and the whole affair left even fans of the franchise disappointed. In a year full of poor video game based movies, Warcraft was the worst.
…If none of that made any sense to you, congratulations! You are sane, and will find the first thirty minutes of Warcraft to be insane. Warcraft is a movie adaptation of a game by Blizzard Entertainment that spent roughly a decade as a decent real time strategy game before they converted it into World of Warcraft, the #1 Massive Multiplayer Online game of all time, which has pretty much dominated the MMO landscape for around 15 years.
That’s right, this movie is adapting a game with almost 25 years of lore and continuity. They seemingly tried to jam all those years into the first 30 minutes: so you see a lot of places, hear many names, get plot moving dialogue by the ton, and will assuredly remember none of it by the time the movie proper starts. The informational assault on your ears, eyes, and brain was probably meant to feel like Neo learning Kung Fu, but felt more like Morpheus being broken by Agent Smith. Whoa.
Our film, better known by its working title, “The League of Shitty Beards V. Planet Hulk”, starts off by introducing Orcs, a race of warrior clans that prize honor as highly as they do savagery. That is until Papa Smurf Orc decides to pull a Gargamel by ruining their home-world, sucking it dry with a forbidden life sorcery called The Fell. Having ruined their world in his quest for dominance (of a land the Orcs were already clearly dominating) they decide that instead of “knocking the evil magic shit off,” they will just use the last gasp of their world to move to another one, so they can strip mine that one as well. That’s right Donnie, these men are Republicans. Their destination: Azeroth, the world of Man (and other races that cost way too damn much money to represent in CGI so you only see them fleetingly).
The invasion sets off a frenetic cascade of scenic vistas, bare-bones exposition, and video game Easter eggs as humanity scrambles to mount a defense against this unknown foe. Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) is Azeroth’s best warrior, as evidenced by his possession of the world’s shittiest beard. I mean, it’s like someone stapled a drowned cat to Aragorn’s face. His best friend is Medivh (Ben Foster), the world’s best sorcerer, guardian of Azeroth, and fellow shitty beard haver. They work for King Llane (Dominic Cooper), made king because he has the least shitty beard in Azeroth. Rounding out our crew is Khadgar ( Ben Schnetzer), who is obviously a rogue wizard as he has been stripped of a shitty beard and just has a pedo-mustache. They leap into action by getting almost 80% of their legions murdered without so much as capturing an Orc, until they conveniently come across the only Orc-Human hybrid (Paula Patton as Garona), who they capture and leer at in some of the creepiest attempts at romance I’ve seen in awhile.
(Not) Jacked Up and Good to Go!
Around this point in the film, two glaring weaknesses become readily apparent.
Firstly, this is one of the most boring paint by numbers fantasy plots ever put to film. A first time dungeon master could have crafted something more interesting than “Orcs and Humans fight, some of them are actually good people that want to avoid war but an evil wizard is pulling the strings from the shadows”. This is made even worse by how transparently and predictably things progress. Things happen for no other reason than that they have to happen for the next plot point to be accessed. Heel turns, reveals, and “momentous” decisions are never earned or organic, they land into the story with a thud of inevitability.
You know who the evil wizard is going to be (here’s a hint, he has a shitty beard!) about an hour before it is explicitly stated to you. Each character’s actions have no logic or backstory to it, they just happen because the plot required it. This lazy, amateurish scripting was summed up perfectly when Khadgar the Beardless ™ encounters the magical plot giving goddess, who tells him and the audience everything we had already figured out. He responds “I don’t know what to do”. She tells him “Yes, you do” and vanishes. He then walks into his wizarding duel wholly unprepared and gets his ass whupped because our final act needed fake tension. Apparently both Khadgar and Charles Leavitt the screenwriter honestly didn’t know what to do, either.
Secondly, the boring story apparently infected the cast of this movie, as they deliver their lines with the gusto of a 50 year old encyclopedia salesman giving his pitch for the 1 millionth time. The worst offender is Lothar, whose disinterest in this story is palpable. He was absolutely trying to be aloof like Aragorn, but channels Mannequin Skywalker instead. His snark is flat and douchey, his romantic overtures to Garona are creepy and passionless. When his own son is killed in front of him, the best he can muster is a look of resignation tinged with what eerily looked like amusement. My only theory on Travis Fimmel’s lack of passion can be that he must be in possession of Spaceball 1’s Mr. Video, and he saw how terrible this movie was going to be before they had even started filming it.
OK. So we could have guessed the plot was going to be pretty vanilla, but this movie was marketed as a CGI bonanza of action including the buckling of all the swashes. It even has Industrial Light and Magic attached to it, the gold standard of special effects. So how does that stack up?
While I will give credit that the Orcs were a marvel of facial animation wizardry (some of the best “avoid the uncanny valley at all costs” work I’ve seen), the rest was a boring mash-up of Michael Bay flavored special effects tropes. The Orcs continue a tradition I despise in current action movie CGI: giant lumps of muscle flailing around. The Hobbit (you know, LOTR:Crappy Edition), TMNT, and the first two Hulk movies have clearly shown how that approach leads to uncanny valley monstrosities that don’t realistically interact with weapons, the environment, or each other in a satisfying way.
The second “Bay-ism” comes from our humans: they are decked out in so much armor that you basically have Transformers running around, just so they can deafen us with crunching and smashing sounds during blurry action shots. Put them together and you get a cacophony of computer textures bashing into each other set to sound effects that make 70’s Kung Fu movies seem restrained and tasteful.
Construct Additional Pylons
Before typing this take-down, I spoke to a friend of mine who has played WoW since its inception. He related to me how this movie is a combination of the events of Warcraft the RTS series and one of the latest WoW expansions, Warlords of Draenor. Many of the characters of the movie appear in these events, but it forgoes the alternate timeline setting of Warlords of Draenor and just sets those events as the regular Warcraft timeline. As such, the movie is pretty much a prequel to most of WoW.
The final 15 minutes of the movie actually has some semi-interesting dangling plot threads such as the death of the “Good” Orc Gul’Dan and the Moses-like rescue of his son by humans. The boring, plodding nature of the preceding parts of the movie, its abysmal performance in US theaters, and a critical reception not seen since Zack Snyder’s latest attempt to assassinate Clark Kent’s good name lead me to believe that those ends will remain loose. If a sequel is made, I bet they abandon most of the plot threads and just throw in the Wushu Pandas from a WoW expansion that took place right before Draenor as blatant Panda-ering to the Chinese, who loved this movie for reasons I can’t possibly fathom.
All in all, this movie deserves to be added to Neil’s Mount Rushmore of bad video game inspired movies. It might not beat out the adventures of a certain Italian plumber, but it’s a dull and lifeless affair worthy of panning. Just go watch the first 5 minutes of the Fellowship of the Ring or the last 20 minutes of Return of the King on repeat. A day may come when good video game movies are made, but it is not this day.
*editor’s note: yes, we know all of these catch phrases are from Starcraft, not Warcraft. We just couldn’t be arsed to play Warcraft.*