Warcraft revolves around the initial encounters between humans and the orcs. Looking to escape from his dying world, the orc shaman Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) utilizes dark magic to open a portal to the realm of Azeroth. Gul’dan unites the orchish clans into a formidable army called the Horde, led by the noble chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell). Uniting to save Azeroth from these powerful invaders are King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and resourceful warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) of the Alliance along with the reclusive wizard Medivh (Ben Foster). As the war progresses, leaders from each side struggle with the consequences of this conflict and question the sanctity of what they’re fighting for.
Don’t let the seemingly convoluted nature of this narrative fool you. The focus of this story is on its dynamic characters who are the heart of this movie thanks to the commendable performances of the ensemble cast. A standout rendition comes from Paula Patton as Garona, a half-orc survivor who is caught between the Horde and the Alliance. The opening scene shows the perspective of an orc couple who worry about the fate of their tumultuous clan and newborn child. It is a key sequence that humanizes these troubled creatures and allows us to understand that they have just as much on the line as the humans. Medivh (my favorite character from the games) is well realized on the big screen and though his arc defied expectations, I was left wanting more. Unfortunately, there are a few characters who do not get enough screen time and are not fleshed out. Along with Medivh, several key players can feel underused or lost among the large roster. Warcraft is a juggling act and while several pieces work, there’s a lot that doesn’t live up to the promise.
Despite the dark tone, the few humorous moments are great and are a nice break from the brutal violence. The main problem comes with the film’s mythology. There is so much information that is unloaded on the audience that it can be quite laborious to sit through. The special effects are generally well done but at times, there is too much going on to keep up with. That being said, I think the depiction of magic is inspired and is an element from the games that is done justice. My favorite scene takes place halfway through the movie. During an intense battle, Medivh creates a magical barrier and what follows is a superb visual spectacle and heartrending sequence underscored by rousing music (kudos to Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi) while Lothar is forced to watch an agonizing moment unfold. It is an excerpt that proves these battles have weight to them and are emotionally driven. The overall plot is fairly predictable save for the third act which is where the story takes a couple of unexpected turns. The number of main characters that do not live to see the end is startling and is a risk that pays off if you are invested in them.
There’s a lot to unpack in Warcraft. At first glance, it might appear to be a generic fantasy film featuring sprawling battles. But at the center of the movie is a story about fathers and sons, betrayal amongst friends and fractured lovers. Jones pays tribute to the fans by successfully drawing from the source material and planting easter eggs throughout the two hour runtime. Warcraft isn’t for everyone and that’s all right. Some might find the story too disingenuous and the movie bites off more than it can chew. I’m very cynical about video game movies because the experience is hard to capture but I believe this is about as good as it gets.