I’m not a gamer per se. I may well have a PS4 and play it every other night, but I don’t play online and I’ve certainly never invested one moment of my life in the World of Warcraft. Casual gamer? Yep, that’s me.
When I saw the trailer for the movie adaptation, I remember turning to my Wife and saying “Do you want to see that?” No, was the definite reply. I concurred. The prospect of another CGI laden fantasy epic left me very cold. After all, it really hadn’t been long since Peter Jackson’s last Hobbit movie limped off the screen and whist I can fully appreciate the hugely successful Game of Thrones series, I had even by this point left the world of Westeros behind as well. If there was a condition known as fantasy fatigue I think I had a nasty dose of it coursing through my veins.
Truth be told, it was late in the game that I decided to go and see Warcraft at the cinema. Once I realized that Duncan Jones was attached as director (and believe me it took me sometime to cotton onto that fact) my interest went from 0 right up to an intrigued 10. I had loved both Moon and Source Code, Jones’ previous somewhat smaller movies and if there was any name attached to Warcraft which was going to make me want to go and see it, his was it. Having said that, I was still very concerned with how the movie would play out. Jones certainly wouldn’t be the first talented director to go from low-key projects to a major Hollywood movie and get lost along the way.
I won’t go too much into the plot. After all, I would be lying if I said that I totally understood all of what was going on. Sure, it has something to do with the orcs opening a portal to the human world of Azeroth as they look for a way to flee their dying world. United by the orc warlock, Gul’don, a Horde army is amassed , which naturally makes the humans somewhat nervous as to what their end game would be, particularly when one the human settlements is attacked. I wouldn’t be giving much away if I said that Gul’don’s intentions weren’t that peaceful, but then the seductive power of fel magic (don’t ask – it’s basically powerful magic) would be enough to corrupt any living being with greed, power and the temptation to rule.
Granted, I’m being a little unfair and throw-away in my description of the story. In the hands of Duncan Jones and fellow scribe Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) the script is surprisingly engaging and on the whole intelligent. Bravely, for a fantasy film which introduces a new world there is little time spent on backstory or giving the viewer loads of exposition to wade through. Whilst this does mean that viewers who have no knowledge of the game will have to keep their wits about them at all times, as Jones demands they pick up the story as each scene unfolds, planting seeds here and there about what everything means but never talking down to us, it’s actually a very rewarding and refreshing approach... Indeed, it’s hardly surprising that many have compared this to fantasy films from the 80’s. Sometimes less is more.
My biggest reservation before entering the world of Azeroth was undoubtedly in how the CGI nature of the film would be handled. After all, the trailer had left me somewhat cold and fearing a sense that the world they were trying to create and the events which unfold herein would feel lightweight and insignificant. It’s an all too common problem, but thankfully in the case of Warcraft my fears were quickly put to rest thanks to a combination of excellent performances and carefully executed CGI work which had me forgetting that they were just that – computer generated creatures in a computer generated world. Jones and his team should be congratulated for managing to garner such vitality and life to the story, with genuine emotional attachment for the viewer to become invested in. That ladies and gentlemen is the real trick, getting us to care about the fantastical journey we’re embarking upon. Warcraft achieves this with an air of craftsmanship and confidence.
As mentioned, the performances Jones musters from his fine cast do not go unnoticed. Whilst Travis Fimmel puts in a spirited and heroic turn as Anduin Lothar (the stedfast knight who is the best warrior the humans have), it’s actually the multifaceted portrayal from Paula Patton as the half-orc and half-human Garona, which really steals the show here. It’s an emotionally charged, fully committed performance which becomes the true heart of the movie. Toby Kebbell is equally as believable as Durotan, a noble orc-chieftan who doesn’t really take kindly to the dictatorship which the villainous Gul’don is forcing upon his clan. Indeed, Daniel Wu is deliciously sinister as Gul’don, the orc warlock who has become power-mad due to the seductive influence of the fel. However, the great thing about Warcraft is that not all orcs are tainted with the same brush of villainous evil. This is where the film’s true strength lies. The orcs are not evil – neither are humans. It’s a war instigated by madness or magic exploiting the weakness of both races. It’s an element which appears to have passed many critics by, but then many appear to have problems getting past the fact that it’s based on a video game.
Warcraft is not just another video game adaptation. It’s full of vibrant storytelling, the kind which refuses to cram in countless scenes of exposition, instead trying to tell the background to the worlds involved as we go. For the most part of its 2 hour running time, it works remarkably well. True, we may get a 3 hour extended cut by the time the home media versions are released, but quite honestly I’m more than happy with the exciting, fun and immersive experience which was unleashed at cinemas. What Duncan Jones has shown is that with enough belief and commitment, there is no reason why a movie adaptation of a video game should not succeed. Any such prejudices should be left at the door, as Warcraft deserves far better.
James is a self-confessed movie fan ever since watching Ben Gardner's head pop out of that hole in the boat in Jaws, with eyeball missing, back when it was first screened on TV. He's written for different film fanzines over the years, is an award winning faneditor known as Last Survivor and recently launched a new YouTube channel called Movie Soundscapes, which is dedicated to reviewing and discussing movie soundtracks or film scores.