Confession time! I’m a gamer who has never played Warcraft. Scratch that. I played World of Warcraft for about an hour, then returned to my first MMO love, Final Fantasy XI. But I am by no means ignorant of the Blizzard Entertainment phenomenon and harboured cautious optimism after seeing the initial trailer for the new movie.
Fantasy films in general, and game-based fantasy films specifically, are not exactly known as Academy Award-quality material, even if many of them do star Academy Award winners Ben Kingsley and/or Jeremy Irons. Still, Dungeons & Dragons (2000) and even Prince of Persia (2010) are guilty pleasure watches that I can’t turn away from if they happen to show up on my television.
Warcraft, sadly, doesn’t feature either Kingsley or Irons, but Glenn Close does hop in for a cameo, playing a character called Alodi, who is a half-elf male in the game canon. I’m sure several other game elements are altered for the new medium, but judging by the after movie chatter from my local theatre’s audience—who appeared to largely be Warcraft players, including my husband and the four people dressed as a mage, a bard, a knight, and a rogue—none of the changes, or the movie itself, was a disappointment.
I’m enough of a gamer and fantasy lover to agree with that assessment, but I think that the movie works as a whole for anyone not at all familiar with the lore or even the genre thanks to a simple introduction to the realms and the conflicts between them as humans try to fend off an orc invasion. Excellent special effects and acceptable acting also help the movie. The film stars Travis Fimmel, who reprises his lead role of Ragnar Lothbrok in Vikings to play Lothar, commander of the king’s army and brother to the queen. The king and queen themselves will be familiar faces if you’re watching AMC’s new Preacher television series, starring Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper. Paula Patton plays a lackluster Garona, the orc outcast who ends up fighting on the side of the human king. She plays the part well enough, but I would have liked to see more orcish physicality from the one orc that isn’t comprised entirely of CGI.
The film’s most notable performance belongs to Toby Kebbell as Durotan, the chieftan of the nice Frost Wolf orcs who aren’t so keen on the murder and pillaging their kin are up to. He is my eight-year-old’s* favourite character from the film, and our Funko collection will expand shortly to include him. I had the pleasure of learning more about the character in the prequel novel Warcraft: Durotan by Christie Golden in which the slow death of the orc’s world forces them to follow the evil shaman Gul’dan through a portal to Azeroth in order to conquer the new world. The book adds far more meat to the character than what the movie manages to portray, relying on basic archetypes to count toward character development.
Gul’dan’s treachery is also much more subtle in the book, while in the movie he is the obvious cause of death of the orc’s world. He is played by Into the Badland’s Daniel Wu. Despite being a prominent character, like Patton’s green-skinned orc, Wu’s role suffers from the dehumanization of people of colour that Hollywood is so fond of when it’s not busy whitewashing its blockbuster films completely. The few other people of colour typically fall into the background with few or no speaking lines.
*We did take our daughters to see this, ages eight and ten, but I don’t recommend it as family fun for everyone. We know what our kids can handle and always discuss any issues presented and questions they might have. The movie is brutally violent—perhaps surprisingly so for a PG-13 rating since we’ve grown used to the recent rash of superhero movies that tend to pull their punches in favour of bigger explosions, fancy footwork, and the occasional plot gimmick death.
Otherwise, the movie’s plot is easy enough for anyone to follow, considering the vast lore it calls upon. My kids picked up on the various storylines they’ve seen many times before, including epic exoduses, altruistic kings, corrupted mages, conflicted traitors, etc. This is the key to getting the mainstream, non-gaming audience on board, though the numbers have not been impressive for the North American box office. Thankfully, China has come in for the save, which, according to this Washington Post piece, might have been the intention all along:
“The film has set multiple box-office records in China — where reportedly at least one of out of every three “World of Warcraft” subscribers resides — and has already grossed more than a quarter-billion dollars overseas.
“In other words: More than three decades after David Bowie sang of Western imperialism and domination (right down to the lyric “I’ll give you television”) in the hit “China Girl,” his son — “Warcraft” director Duncan Jones — is profiting from a China-centric entertainment business model that could have longer reverberations in Hollywood.”
The movie “ends” with SEQUEL written all over it, though none has been confirmed just yet. Says senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co., Jeff Bock:
“There’s a distinct possibility that Warcraft 2 goes into production, is fully financed in China, and does not get a major North American release.”
While there was some speculation on what comes next for Lothar and Garona and the battle for Azeroth in the after movie banter that I overheard, I was more intrigued by the attention turned to another of Blizzard’s properties, one that also has a huge following in the Asian markets. I’m not gonna lie. As much as I enjoyed Warcraft for what it was, I’d be much happier seeing the Queen of Blades on the big screen in a StarCraft movie instead. Can someone please check to see what Tricia Helfer is up to?