Monday Update – Warcraft

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Warcraft – Due to the enticement of free things in Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, I picked up a copy of the Warcraft film. When you basically get a film for free based on the retail price of the gifts you get, I’m not complaining!

So, how was it? As a veteran World of WarCraft player (for over a decade…I feel old) and a person rather familiar with the Warcraft lore, I’d say they did a pretty good job. The film seems based on the Warcraft novel The Last Guardian, which is a heavily retconned version of the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans story. This is a good thing, because the original two Warcraft games had what we’d call a threadbare story that supplemented the RTS gameplay on hand (and to supplement Blizzard’s lack of a Warhammer license – how fortuitous that event became for the company!).

The Last Guardian, on the other hand, details how the Orcs got onto Azeroth from a foreign planet called Draenor. Their planet was dying, and it seemed like invasion was their only hope. They had the help of the Burning Legion, which struck a deal with an orc named Gul’Dan who wanted power. So, the Guardian of Azeroth, Medivh, was possessed by a demonic force and ends up opening the portal to Azeroth. Well, more accurately there’s a novel that comes before this as to how the Orcs turned into the Horde and started wrecking their own planet, but Warcraft as a movie glosses over that back story.

Basically, Duncan Jones (who directed Moon and Source Code, and is David Bowie’s son…) gets to the same exact end point via different means. It’s sort of like watching an alternative universe Azeroth where everything’s slightly different, but not enough to change major plot points. Just for example, SPOILERS Garona does end up killing King Llane, but by his request rather than being controlled by Gul’Dan via demon magic. Durotan and Aggra both die, and this time not via subtlety but via Gul’Dan participating in melee combat (!) and Aggra getting straight up stabbed. I guess I could go on with how Khadgar isn’t even working at Karazhan, but this is all moot. SPOILERS. The changes were clearly made for the purpose of pacing and flow; I’m glad the filmmakers didn’t feel like they had to adhere exactly to the established lore, and I commend Blizzard for letting them take artistic liberties with their material.

So, for the Warcraft fanboy within, the film exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations as to being accurate to the source material and entertaining. For a general audience, though? I honestly couldn’t tell you. given that I lack any objectivity in regards to Jones’ Warcraft as a whole. I’m pretty familiar with the story already, so I don’t know whether this looks like impenetrable fantasy fiction garbage or a decent swords/sorcery film that cribs a lot from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (maybe more like The Hobbit, what with all the CGI characters in this thing).

My guess, given from the MetaCritic scores, is that Warcraft exists “for the fans”, which is all well and good until you realize the movie probably doesn’t make any sense. It jumps into the Warcraft universe in media res, with barely any setup at all, and then expects the audience to simply follow along AND pick up on a seeming pleothera of different main characters. Heck, that would be intimidating for nearly anyone to follow, but to do this effectively within a 2 hour running time? Madness! Whoever decided to cut the runtime down clearly should be fired, because I think that’s going to be the greatest hurdle to entry: context.

If you know about Warcraft lore, then the performances make sense, the motivations make sense, and the entire film makes sense just via osmosis. But outside of that, I can imagine this being a whirlwind tour to the Realm of Confusion. That is really unfortunate to me, because I felt totally engaged throughout and knew what they were going for. The film has a pretty intense air of sincerity about it, like they really wanted to make a great movie and it simply creaks under the pressure of trying to stuff all the interesting things about Warcraft into two hours plus fun references for the fan and (maybe) and a competent plot. But it just never gets there!

I really want to recommend it, because I enjoyed it, but I know in my heart most people just won’t have the patience for Warcraft.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.