Years of hollow hype and months of flashy trailers aimed at getting non-World of Warcraft players into theatre seats left me with little hope that I would enjoy Duncan Jones' Warcraft movie. Well, surprise.
I've seen Warcraft twice now, the second time to ensure my enjoyment wasn't a fluke of the Not Your Dad's Root Beer I had at the local cinema grill during my first viewing. I left the theatre late Thursday night feeling good about what I'd just seen, pondering the potential for a sequel, wondering how a grown-up Thrall might translate to the big screen. I enjoyed Jones' take on the lore I was familiar with, even where it diverged wildly from what I knew.
Then I came home and read Jason Schreier's negative take on the film. I'd read it previously and his opinion jived with my expectations at the time. After spending two hours witnessing the first conflict between the orcs of Draenor and humans of Azeroth playing out on the big screen, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't feel the same way at all.
Now I dabbled in the Warcraft real-time-strategy games as they came out on PC, but it wasn't until 2004's World of Warcraft that I really got into the series. Drawn in by the cartoonish graphics and low system requirements, I was soon hooked, playing the game religiously for several years. My play slowed down in late 2006 when I signed on at Kotaku, but I've returned for every expansion pack, getting my Azeroth fix mainly through comic books and novels in the interim.
Warcraft can be a campy place, filled with pop culture references and broad humour, but all of that is built atop a strong story. Azeroth has been a target for invasion from interstellar demons for ages. Ages before the orcish hordes of Draenor embraced fel energy and marched through the Dark Portal, demonic influences threatened to tear apart the world from within.
Armed with a strong sense of what came before and a good idea of what happens next, the movie brought to life events that had already unfolded in my imagination several times over, with several key changes from established lore to keep me on my toes.
Concern over the CG orcs ruining the picture for me faded within the first five minutes. Frostwolf chieftain Durotan, voiced by Toby Kebbell, watches over his sleeping mate, Draka. She wakes, sensing his eyes on her, and he places his large hand over her pregnant belly. As he draws his hand away the skin shifts beneath his touch, then slides back into place. That was the last time I thought about the CG composition of the orcs. From that point forward they were a married couple looking forward to the birth of their first child.
The scene shifts to the Dark Portal, as the warlock Gul'dan prepares a massive sacrifice of captive draenei, their spirits the fuel that will connect their dying world with Azeroth.
Here I felt a pang of regret. With the film beginning at this point, I wouldn't get to see the strong bond formed between Durotan and Orgrim Doomhammer (Robert Kazinsky) as children. I would not witness Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) betraying his master, Ner'zhul for the favour of the demon lord, Kil'jaeden.
But I guess I'd already experienced those things and many other epic moments via extended Warcraft fiction. While my knowledge is not encyclopedic by any means, I knew enough that I almost joined in on a random discussion outside of the theatre about how in the lore Paula Patton's green-skinned Garona was an orc and draenei half-breed who had a child of her own with Ben Foster's Medivh (in the film she has a thing for Anduin Lothar, played by Vikings' Travis Fimmel.)
Her teeth are kind of silly.
Secure in my grasp of the lore, I was able to enjoy the more subtle aspects of the movie. Picking out the references and symbols on the biding of books in the tower of Karazhan. A gryphon ride ending in the second portal on the right in the city of Stormwind. The sheep spell performed by Ben Schnetzer's incredibly young Khadgar, who goes as far as to mention the spell's duration.
Combing the movie for small details like these helped distract me from some of the less enjoyable aspects, like Fimmel's Lothar basically being a dark-haired version of his character from Vikings, or Ben Foster's oft-rambling performance as Medivh, a conflicted character who comes across as more confused than anything else. Human performances weren't spectacular across the board, far overshadowed by the more dynamic orcs, who showed much broader emotional range despite not being real physical things.
I was engaged. I laughed several times, mostly at things the filmmakers wanted me to laugh at (the Dalaran mages' eyes were pretty bad.) I left the theatre feeling encouraged enough to introduce the movie to my wife, a harsh critic who thought Deadpool was merely OK.
Here's what she had to say.
In a shocking turn of events I didn't hate the Warcraft movie. It will probably be one of those go to films I put on in the background because I don't have to really pay that much attention to it, but. It hit all the points I like in my fantasy. Kings/chieftains/leaders who are decisive and willing to fight for their people/the greater good. Women kicking arse and taking names in reasonable armour.
Only one quasi love story that didn't eat up the entirety of the movie. The idea that warriors can be strong but also soft and nurturing in the correct environment.
I've heard that for some people they felt the acting fell flat but my biggest issue was as a non fan I'm sure there was a lot of gravitas I missed. So was it bad acting or me not having the appropriate response? Don't know.
From someone who's played World of Warcraft all of 15 minutes to someone in love with CG orc babies in two hours flat.
Why the discrepancy between my opinion of the movie and Jason Schreier's? I suspect the key may lie in the fact that we are two completely different people with different likes and dislikes. We both love role-playing games, we both enjoy the Warcraft games, and we both like movies. We just like all of these things in different ways.In the image below, he's on the left, and I'm on the right.
The numbers, I mean. I am obviously the orc in this scenario.
I was certain the Warcraft movie would be an overwhelming disappointment. To my surprise, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. Twice. Jason said he's had more enjoyable two-hour sessions wiping at Molten Core. I wouldn't know about that. I never wiped at Molten Core.