Movie Review: Warcraft
By Ben Gruchow
June 14, 2016
Some of the orcs are good, though, and realize the error of their ways. Meanwhile, there are humans (the Alliance) in Azeroth who are good, and try to defeat the orcs from taking over their world. Some of the humans are corrupted by evil, though, and conspire to help the orcs win. These orcs and humans are played or voiced by actors, some successfully (Daniel Wu is Gul'Dan, the main orc antagonist), some not so (Ben Foster plays his Guardian as if auditioning for the concept of a fantasy film, rather than an actual one; Paula Patton plays a half-breed caught between the Horde and the Alliance, but her most formidable struggle is enunciating through the god-awful prosthetic tusks she's given to wear).
That's it, really; the major parts of the story never really get any deeper or more textured than that, and the little parts evaporate from memory almost as soon as they occur. There's a reason why I've spent so much space talking about the circumstances that led to this film's existence, rather than the film itself; it's telling that I saw the film less than 24 hours ago, and I struggle to remember anything about the dialogue, the character development, or the way the movie ends. After the fact, it has the feel of seeing yourself in a picture at an event you don't much remember going to.
In the moment, it's like attending an advanced lecture on a subject that you don't understand. For all of what I've written above about the simplicity and airiness of the movie's actual content, it's the most narratively impenetrable and dysfunctional thing of its type since Silent Hill. All throughout the film, characters pause and give ominous pronouncements and statements and backstory tidbits, and there are endless references made regarding saving/eradicating one's land or people or kind or type, and it's rather shocking how little of it sticks, and how little context is put into place for any audience member not intimately familiar with the existing source material's storyline. I am casually familiar with the game's universe and I was adrift for most of the running time; best of luck to you if you walk into this film totally ignorant of the source material.
The movie scores a solid hit on the visuals, as mentioned. It's wall-to-wall with CGI, mostly involving the humanoid but distinctly mythical orcs; they look convincing within the demands of the film's universe, even if they don't look particularly “real” in any sense. Equally evocative is the production design, which achieves the tricky feat of building a universe mostly in the background; what happens in Azeroth may be fuzzy, but it's easy to imagine a good movie being made in this sandbox. There are those isolated moments where we're reminded of the director's talent for giving a moment time to stretch out and let suspense and implication build naturally. This is symptomatic of the norm for medieval fantasy currently, then: isolated moments of vision and promise, mostly untethered to a messy and ill-defined series of conflicts and skirmishes.