Film Review: ‘Warcraft’

Warcraft
Courtesy of Universal

Hollywood's habit of turning hit videogames into unwatchable movies continues unabated.

The epic battle at the center of “Warcraft” isn’t the clash between humans and orcs. That’s just what takes up roughly two hours of screen time. The true conflict comes from filmmakers trying to tell a story with soul and struggling against the inherent ridiculousness of the commodity they’re working with. It shouldn’t take a mage to foresee that this pricey and preposterous adaptation of an online gaming phenomenon was preordained for artistic mediocrity.

With little concern for all those already perplexed at the mention of orcs and mages, “Warcraft” plunges headfirst into a fantasy realm teeming with mythical creatures, magical spells and exotically named characters and locations. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it approach likely to have most audience members opting for the latter, though devotees of the immersive role-playing source material may have an entirely different experience. If so, Universal will have to hope they storm the box office early and often. Otherwise the studio could be looking at one of the biggest duds of the summer.

That’s despite the noble effort of director Duncan Jones, who helmed the lower-budget sci-fi wonders “Moon” and “Source Code” and labors mightily here to craft a solid emotional foundation in his script with Charles Leavitt. The “Warcraft” games — which have radically declined in popularity from a high of 12 million regular users in 2010 to a recent low of close to 5 million (so low the company behind it no longer releases subscriber counts to the public) — were never meant to have the narrative depth of “The Lord of the Rings,” or even “Game of Thrones.” But the film cribs freely from both of those sources anyway, as well as “Star Wars,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Avatar” and numerous other recent blockbusters.

The orcs, a race of giant warrior beasts, flee their dying homeland of Draenor through a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth, where they wage a full-scale attack on unsuspecting humans for control of the land. Orc soldier Durotan (Toby Kebbell, like all orc players, working in performance capture) questions the brutal ways of his clansmen — led by warchief Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and power-hungry warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) — and believes a compromise without bloodshed is possible. His counterpart on the human side is Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel of TV’s “Vikings”), a knight devoted to serving his benevolent king and queen (Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga).

Durotan’s fierce mate Draka (Anna Galvin) delivers an adorable orc baby early on, and Lothar’s son Callan (Burkely Duffield) is determined to impress his father on the battlefield. Those family ties are duly exploited for maximum melodramatic impact, as the dual protagonists rage and question and mourn and soulfully ponder the complexity that exists on two sides of any conflict.

Ditto Garona (Paula Patton), a slave claiming to be half-orc, half-human, who makes her way through the portal and finds herself torn between the two sides. She quickly gets cozy with Lothar, but it’s hard to take Patton or the character seriously with her “Star Trek”-alien-esque green skin and the oversized fangs jutting out from her jaw, looking like a last minute find in the Halloween store bargain bin, and making her sound like she has a mouth full of magic beans.

And that goes to the root of the problems with “Warcraft”: it’s an unwaveringly earnest film that never owns up to exactly how campy every character, every conflict and every new realm truly is. Ben Foster has another central role as reclusive wizard Medivh, a “Guardian” of Azeroth who has been not so subtly dabbling in dark magic. He’s introduced sculpting a golem (surely you’ll recall the old chestnut about Chekhov’s golem), shirtless and wild-eyed, but it takes Lothar quite some time to piece together the warning signs. Medivh should be fun, but Foster’s deadpan turn is, like the movie around him, a drag.

With its meticulously detailed realms built out primarily on soundstages and enhanced via CGI during extensive post-production, “Warcraft” aims for fresh and eye-popping and yet ends up shopworn and rather tacky. It fits into a long line of visually audacious Hollywood gambles: In success you wind up with a sleeper that few see coming, like “300” (or, if you strike the bull’s-eye, a phenomenon like “Avatar”), but the ones that miss — “The Spirit,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Sucker Punch” — tend to tank hard.

Boasting more than 2,000 visual effects shots, it’s dispiriting to think about the time, energy, planning and precision that went into “Warcraft” when the final product brings to mind those animated advertisements for iPhone app games. So good at making the most outlandish elements of his first two films seem completely credible, Jones can’t find a way to get this cartoony spectacle to soar. His heartfelt approach to the material only underlines the silliness.

Production designer Gavin Bocquet, costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo and visual effects supervisors Bill Westenhofer, Jeff White and Jason Smith lead the heavy lifting on the artisans side, since what the producers essentially purchased with the source material is a collection of locations, wardrobe, weapons, and spells.

“Warcraft” ends with a set-up for a sequel, but also the feeling that if this is what combat looks like, it’s time to give peace a chance.

Film Review: 'Warcraft'

Reviewed at AMC Universal CityWalk 19, Universal City, May 9, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 123 MIN.  

Production

A Universal Pictures release of a Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures presentation of a Legendary Pictures / Blizzard Entertainment / Atlas Entertainment production. Produced by Charles Roven, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Alex Gartner, Stuart Fenegan. Executive producers, Jillian Share, Brent O’Connor, Michael Morhaime, Paul Sams, La Peikang, Edward Cheng, Qian Shimu, Wang Zhonglei. Co­-producers, Chris Metzen, Nick Carpenter, Rob Pardo, Rebecca Steel Roven.  

Crew

Directed by Duncan Jones. Screenplay, Charles Leavitt, Jones, based on Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft. Camera (color, Arri Alexa HD, widescreen, 3D), Simon Duggan; editor, Paul Hirsch; music, Ramin Djawadi; music supervisors, Peter Afterman, Margaret Yen; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; supervising art director, Helen Jarvis; art directors, Rod McLean, Dan Hermansen, Grant van der Slagt, Margot Ready; set decorator, Elizabeth Wilcox; costume designer, Mayes C. Rubeo; sound (DTS X/Dolby Atmos), Eric Batut; supervising sound editors, Wylie Stateman, Tom Bellfort; re-recording mixers, Mike Prestwood Smith, Michael Keller; sound effects designer, Harry Cohen; visual effects supervisors, Bill Westenhofer, Jeff White, Jason Smith; animation supervisor, Hal Hickel; visual effects producer, Mark Soper; visual effects art director, Chris Beach; animation-visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, Hybride, Rodeofx, Base FX; face scanning, Medusa Performance Capture; stunt coordinator-second unit director, Tom Struthers; fight coordinators, Roger Yuan, Andre Tricoteux; movement choreographer, Terry Notary; makeup department head, Connie Parker; hair department head, Sanna Seppanen; assistant director, Pete Whyte; second unit camera, Stewart Whelan; casting, Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham.

With

Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Rob Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Callum Keith Rennie, Burkely Duffield, Ryan Robbins, Dean Redman, Glenn Close.

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  1. I loved Warcraft movie!!! It’s great and loyal to the whole world of Warcraft! SFX in this movie were amazing and they put their heart in this creation! I completly disagree with you and every bad critics about this movie. I hope of a second Warcraft and I hope they will not get discouraged by all these biased media critics.

  2. Kevin says:

    Maybe you need to actually play World of Warcraft to like it. I completely disagree with Variety’s review. I thought it was excellent. World of Warcraft is a very rich world with more lore and content than any game I have ever played. The uncut blu ray / dvd version is fantastic! I’m looking forward to the next Warcraft movie, and seeing more races, particularly Gnomes, cause GNOMES are AWESOME!

    For Gnomeregan!

  3. Stefan says:

    Just to let you know, Warcraft’s lore is fairly rich and detailed, and the games go back far beyond the introduction to the MMO World of Warcraft- the games extend back to 1994 when the first game (of the RTS Genre that was budding at the time) Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was released to a fair amount of acclaim, the story of which was the basis of the first of the movies (if indeed there end up being any more.) I’d strongly suggest doing more research before you make statements like the lack of lore, or mention statistics and origins.

  4. Mark says:

    Dude… what? The film has many problems, but one of them surely isn’t a lack of source material or depth of narrative. There’s way more to the Warcraft franchise than just the games. I have 7 Warcraft books on my shelf, ranging from 2001-2007, so there’s been plenty of story for a very long time. Heck, I even remember the instruction manual for Warcraft II (a 1995 game) having lots of interesting backstory written within. Blizzard has always been going above and beyond creating a universe for their games.

  5. Daniel Snow says:

    It’s written as if he didnt even watch the movie

  6. Zeitlos says:

    To the reviewer: Please rewatch the movie, and not only that, but actually read the LIST of books and media related to the lore of the Warcraft franchise. This is NOT the “World of Warcraft” movie, it is the “WARCRAFT” movie. As in, before the MMORPG was ever even conceived. As in the original ORCS VS. HUMANS rts game that Blizzard released.
    And after watching the movie SEVERAL times, with the viewpoints of MULTIPLE people who hadn’t a clue about the Warcraft lore, I have concluded that if you can’t keep up with the basic plot, i.e. what you NEED to know, then you just have a lazy brain (or are too used to simple plots, that’s sort of the theme these days), and cannot sort through what’s relevant and what’s side-plot stuff for the many fans who had long-anticipated a Warcraft film, who had been playing the games since 1994 and onwards.

    TLDR? Actually know the content and relevance of something before you make a sad excuse of a review of it. Preferably get a new hobby if you refuse to do any research whatsoever, including paying attention to the film name itself – because just that made everything you said in your review lose all merit.

  7. aakash says:

    I totally endorse the views of Mr.Berkshire.The plot is so psychologically complex that for someone watching the movie having no beforehand experience of the foreground of warcraft will struggle to grasp the movie.The screenplay could have been a lot better.I believe most of the moviegoers who went to the movie was because of the CGI.

  8. Anon says:

    “Warcraft isnt about humans vs orcs.” Sir, do research. First game to come out was “Warcraft: Humans vs Orcs” your review means nothing because the amount of research you put into it was zilch. Congratulations on being a bad journalist.

  9. jessrond says:

    “fail is a verb, and is something you do, like fail at English. The act of failing is “failure,” and is a noun. People can be failures, but they can’t be “fails.” That doesn’t make sense. So when you say “epic fail,” what you really mean is “epic failure.” – Maddox

  10. PoemsOne Der says:

    i liked the movie, but i think i came out too late and way too many visual effects but its understandable because they wanted to be just like the cgi of the games , to Alberto yes its for fans, but a starcraft would be good too , and a note to the author it was not only an online phenomenon but back in in time there were actually strategy games, ive never played any online game witch i believe its a waste of time, but i did play starcraft and warcraft when i was middle school and now im in 30’s starcraft came first to me before starship troopers came out witch i thought there were some similarities, and God of War came out first than Clash of Titans, i mean its trivial what hollywood gets from games, but don’t be too blatant maybe it was for people like me, not you, i like movies like captain america, the avengers, guardians of the galaxy, warcraft etc

    but on another note i think the fault lies with the director like the first X Men i saw so many things they could of done way way better and in this case i think its the same

  11. mahyar says:

    wow . u have never read warcrafts books to understand this film . ur logic need some update .

  12. Alberto González González says:

    You’re the fail as a human being, you’ve never played a single Warcraft videogame for sure. Why you go to watch it then? Is only for fans, not for critics who wants Steven Spierbeg to direct the movie.

  13. Alex says:

    I was a fan of WOW and had played for a long time. This movie fails as a movie and the writing is lazy. Character motives such as Medivh make no sense and aren’t explained in the movie. The movie suffers from what a lot of game movies suffer from, too much fan service and literal translation and not enough character development and practicality. The swords were taken straight from the game and look ridiculous when humans are wielding them as an example. It also unfortunately feels like humans are fighting cartoons where the Orcs have no “weight” to them. It’s like the Director watched the Star Wars Trilogy 1-3 and thought the over-use of CGI was a great idea.

    • TJ says:

      Playing wow is not playing Warcraft in its hole the story is more than just wow it starts long before then u may want to get your facts straight before u make stupid comments

  14. Maxima says:

    I don’t care what the critic sais the movie was awesome and if you’re a girl who loves gaming but is still somethimes over emotional than i wasn’t the only one who cried her eyes out :D i can’t wait for the sequel.

    • how do you expect there to be character development in a 2 hour movie, and if you had played wow for ‘a very long time’ you’d know the character motives and even if you don’t, when medivh is dying he clearly states he wanted to help the civilians so go and rethink your life

  15. Steve says:

    This critic is clueless… Amazing film.

  16. Rob Swain says:

    Fantastic movie, stunning beautiful, powerful, nothing to compare it to. These whining critics who contribute nothing to society and live only to tear down other people’s work are on the same level as the mold on my bred in the ref, grey movie!

  17. gimerto says:

    you are out of control? Last night I watch this movie with my family, it’s all amazing, acting, effects, etc., and we enjoy it a lot, please @Geoff Berkshire keep your bad review for yourself.

  18. Timur says:

    Looks like you pretty much hate every fantasy – adventure movies, your review was.. bad. and wrong. and i like how most of the people liked it and the rest said it was meh, to be honest im the one of those who said it was meh, not because of its ”Oh look there is orcs that is green and that is not looking real at all, 1/10.” but because it was short and it was lacking humour, and well, while its history was big (warcraft’s.) they tried to fit it in the movie that is not even 2 hours long. But oh hey, that doesnt matter, only that matters there is green-ish people! not realistic! VOTE FOR TRUMP. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN (AND ITS REALISTIC!)

  19. Your Mom says:

    Sounds like you have no interest in fantasy adventure films. Maybe you should find another column to blog about. Maybe horoscopes, because mine always seem to be bleak with poor excuses for critiques.

  20. Sharey says:

    Your review stinks! WarCraft is a darn good movie, I love it and I don’t even know about the game. It’s earning big at the box office, so I guess the joke is on you.

  21. Warcraft says:

    I have been a fan of the Warcraft universe since 2006 when I started playing vanilla WoW. Since then I have gone back and played the original Warcraft games as well as read all the Warcraft/World of Warcraft novels. I love this universe and lore and I am very excited to see it on the big screen.

  22. SonOfThrall says:

    Just 1 sentnc …. Play the game.

    and ur review will go from saying “mediocre” to “this movie was epic”

  23. I totally disagree with this review, feels like hating too much when it isn’t bad and in fact the story and lore of Warcraft is too big to fit and explain in one movie, i loved the setting, there’s a bunch of details which only a player would catch, loved the pace, FX, photography and the story’s reach, just prepping the ground for greater things to come

  24. Trish says:

    Never played Warcraft nor did I know the characters… But have to say I was totally emerged in this movie… Loved everything about it!! Can’t wait for the sequel…47 yo mum of 3

  25. sean plantinga says:

    Yeah, Dummy, its not World of Warcraft the movie. its Warcraft the movie as in the first Warcraft game and it follows the story quite well. Maybe do a little research before you blindly vomit out a review

  26. Stacey Davis says:

    I haven’t even gotten to see the movie, and already, I can be sure I’ll more than disagree with this guy’s review of it. After all, what’s wrong with a company that makes a great mmorpg making a great movie for its great players? Why does EVERYTHING have to appeal to the lowest common denominator (him and his self-congratulated pithy comments and attitude, for one) Well, I’ll post this, to become part of the apparently active conversation spawned by his drool and derisively droll drivel of a movie review, and leave you guys to it ;) Oh and happy 4th to all my lovely US friends and family today! :)

  27. Damon says:

    Terrible review!

  28. luandre vd berg says:

    I Hate to say it but most of the reviews of the Warcraft movie, Ive read don’t do the movie any damn justice.
    The story of the beginning wont be kill kill all the time for petes sake.
    but when those fight scenes came they were epic.
    the movie has some minor flaws i give it that but overall.
    it was something everyone could enjoy.
    I as a Warcraft fan Loved the hippogriff going bad ass on the orcs.

  29. This movie was super enjoyable, I loved the Orcs and the CG was top notch…
    And I can’t wait to see the second movie
    PS: the Hippogriff was awesome too.

  30. Peter says:

    Ok, I just saw this today. I have never played Warcraft, but i am a huge lover of the fantasy genre having played most of the old-school crpgs and pen & paper D&D growing up. This movie was made for fantasy lovers, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It did feel a little rushed to me, they could have made it three hours, but overall I did enjoy it. I try to support just about anything made in the fantasy genre, hoping more, and better movies get to be made. There is a ton of material out there that I know would make great movies….The Dragonlance saga, as well as an entire world in the Forgotten Realms universe. I thought after the success of Lord of the Rings that it would start a flood of movies in the genre, but it has yet to happen. I’ll keep hoping.

  31. Jake says:

    It is a great movie, don’t waste your time reading this article.

  32. Clarince Stall says:

    I don’t play WoW at all, and I honestly have no clue what it is. I was a little uninterested in the movie considering I was being dragged to it by my parents, but once I got there, I absolutely loved it. The computer animation, I thought, was pretty amazing considering half of the movie had to be animated since it was a whole new world with whole new creatures. I loved the characters, and I loved the way the guardians magic was presented (I honestly have no clue how to word this, so I’m just gonna flow with it) and it honestly made me feel like a kid again. I went home wishing I was a freaking wizard.
    It makes me really sad that it apparently flopped on the market, because a sequel would be really cool.
    Now, don’t criticize me since I have no opinion on the game at all and probably have no clue what I’m talking about, but the movie I thought was great. Really epic and entertaining.

  33. Thijs Leppink says:

    As a fan of Blizzard games, I tried watching this movie with an unbiased look.
    While I think it’s a good movie, I also saw some flaws worth mentioning.

    Some scenes seem to come out of nowhere, or be rushed (the romantic scenes for example).
    It felt like they cut about an hour of the footage to make it a 2 hour film.
    The characters that are introduced also seem to be stacking up pretty fast in this movie, making it hard for people unfamiliar with the lore to remember and really connect with the characters.

    P.s I don’t know why critics are harping on about the CGI as if it were bad. It looked really good considering the races/characters are based on an already existing universe with loads of games that people know them from.

    All in all a good movie, although it could be better if above mentioned flaws weren’t present. I’d give it a solid 7/10

  34. David J. BRUM says:

    Unfortunately the critic in my opinion is out of touch….another reason why I quit reading the Variety magazine. I found the film to be very amusing and the cgi was great. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out…..

  35. Teng says:

    I got into the theater and read the reviews and thought I went to watch the wrong movie. It actually it isn’t bad at all. Everyone has their own point of view so watch it first and you’ll know if you like it or not

  36. anonymous says:

    This was the best movie I’ve ever seen. I went to see it 3 times at the theaters, and every time it seemed better than the last. You don’t need to know all the lore, just have an unbiased open mind to new movies, and look at this from a movie perspective, not a gaming perspective. My friends not into WoW watched this movie and thought it was incredible. Why are so many snobby critics giving it low reviews?

  37. Bea. Williams says:

    You guys suck and really have no taste. Warcraft brought tears to my eyes twice. Douche bags that don’t know the game or lore should just keep their mouths shut….

  38. Jacovny says:

    Hilarious review; I quite enjoyed reading it! Well done sir.

  39. Jacob says:

    Had to stop reading when the author suggested that the depth of story in the Warcraft history can’t rival Middle Earth or even Westeros. Look it up, the WoW Wiki is the second largest wiki in existence, second only to wikipedia. The only lore deeper than Blizzard’s universe is reality.

  40. Wiser says:

    Well deserved low rating review for an obviously bad movie.

  41. Trek fayerweather says:

    So so good a very very good movie, can’t wait to see part two please say there’s a part two coming i can act too would love to play in it

  42. Shafawn says:

    I play wow. Everyone I play with in the game loves the movie. I haven’t met anyone with a negative review of the movie or even a neutral review. Everyone loves it. I’ve seen the movie and I think it’s awesome and I don’t care what critics think. They are usually wrong

    • I liked it too! Please ignore the negative nobodys (like dude before me) looking for their 5 minutes of hate fame…Just like we do in the game :)

    • Wiser says:

      Umm… More than a few of my friends on WoW hated the movie, so I don’t know wtf you’re talking about. Perhaps you joined the “DURR WE LIKE BLIZZARD EVEN WHEN THEY TOSS US SHIT TO EAT” guild.

  43. This movie is not a world of warcraft movie, it’s a warcraft movie, period. Sorry i’m tired of seeing reviews calling this a world of warcraft movie. the movie is set about 30 years before “World of warcraft” during the setting of the first “warcraft” game titled “Warcraft Orcs & Humans” from the mid 90’s and it follows that storyline relatively close. The baby at the end that is sent off by Drakka is the leader of the Orc’s in world of warcraft. just saying. As a setup for the universe this movie is definitely made for the fans and they delivered 100%.

    • Krisis says:

      Well said! As soon as he mentioned subscriber counts and 2010, I knew this author had NO clue what he was even talking about. The movie is “WARCRAFT” not “World of Warcraft: The Movie”.

  44. ALL I CAN SEE IS THAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND SHIT ABOUT MOVIES! First, the movie was made for WarCraft fans, not a bunch of fat lazy asses that think they understand peanuts about movies, Second, the CGI critic; ok, It’s ageeable that the could have done better, but for real?! Criticizing a tecnique that Blizzard is still working to improve on starting the WC saga is easy, when you have giant studios by reference. Third, most of them just flamed it because it’s not made by one of their ”favorite directors” (F*CK IT, the fans just loved it). Thats my opinion, of a pissed off fan and hater of shitty critics.

  45. Idiots “gringos” ….

  46. ALISON MATTHEWMAN says:

    What a total waste of time this critic is. Why is he even employed when he is just turning out a standard copied review with no basis in fact. Laughable and sad.

  47. Le Hunt says:

    I saw the movie, and I’m a 67 year old woman, and I loved it. Absolutely great.

  48. Ricardo says:

    Looks like someone did not watch the movie. Can’t even summarize the movie right. Half of the summary is just factually wrong. Looks like the anti warcraft circlejerk continues

  49. Jeff Czaplewski says:

    Are you serious? I thought this movie was better than the Star Wars last flick. And the 3D effects were better too.

  50. spotliteguy says:

    “…never meant to have the narrative depth…”

    Did you even do your research? There is SO much lore and story in the Warcraft universe. Yet again another critic needlessly bashing the film. So strange that every “critic” on every site posts bad reviews, and yet the audience seems to love it.

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