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Warcraft: Lok’Tar Ogar! in the Cinema

Warcraft: The Beginning will be that kind of movie non-fans may have a hard time appreciating, and the kind of movie fans would watch through, have a ten-minute meditative exercise, and say “Well, it ‘aight.”

And for a video game adaptation, the “‘aight” may make it a rare exemption, given Battleship, Prince of Persia, Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter behind it.

There appears to be something with adaptations – especially those of the video game and anime variety – that ‘does not seem to get a lot of things right.’ Warcraft: The Beginning, surprisingly, got a lot more things right than I had initially expected. Although the graphics were not particularly stunning (it was very CGI-dependent), they were reeking of Azeroth – effectively separating the movie from a Lord of the Rings wannabe or a Disney-fied Game of Thrones.

The paraphernalia were excellently detailed, from the ridiculously giant bookshelves and the ornately-decorated books (that reeked of Warcraft inventory graphics), and the game’s visually unique architecture. There was just beauty staring at the bordering-disproportioned nature of human buildings, and the primal angst of orcish machinations. For someone who has not touched his Warcraft games for a while, Warcraft: The Beginning may actually have me return to Light of Naaru-ing my way through raids with my Draenei paladin.

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Human capital Stormwind as seen in World of Warcraft (left) versus Stormwind as seen in Warcraft: the Beginning (right). Note the uncanny resemblance of the city’s layout, down to Stormwind Harbor to the upper right of Stormwind Keep.
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The Dark Portal in Hellfire Peninsula in Outland (previously Draenor) as seen in World of Warcraft (left), versus the Dark Portal under construction in the Blasted Lands in Azeroth in Warcraft: the Beginning (right). Note how two worlds are connected in portals in these exact same spots according to Warcraft lore.
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Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer, left) unleashing a spell against the orcs. Notice how the runes in his spell are similar to the runes seen in the games (right). It is best to see the spell casting done in the movie itself and note how even the spell animations are similar in both the movie and the games.

Sadly, the same could not be said with the casting and the execution. There was just something un-Llane and un-Medivh with Dominic Cooper and Ben Foster. They were not bad actors, but they seemed to be badly cast, as other actors must surely be more apt for the job.

I would give particular praise to Paula Patton and Tony Kebbell – Garona and Durotan brought life to the dialogue and the film itself (and honestly, speaking through those tusks must have been hard), but other characters and their respective sub-plots could use some development, even if they are simply introduced and not dwelt on (as a lot of them are not particularly emphasized). The writing was praise-worthy, given the amount of material they could use and the vast expanse of lore at their disposal – it was an entertaining and satisfying retelling of one of the world’s most revolutionary strategy games.

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Durotan amd jos (Toby Kebbell) and Orgrim Doomhammer (Rober Kazinsky), along with other CGI orcs, looking over the Blasted Lands where the Burning Legion has set camp upon their arrival in Azeroth.
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Medivh (Ben Foster) showcasing some of his magic to Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), who consulted him during the troubled times in Azeroth. Note the unnatural thickness of the books surrounding them and the ornate detail on the windows that are similar to some items and architecture in the games.
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Lothar in his battle armor having a conversation to Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton). I would like to praise Patton and Kebbell’s performance in the film, despite the demand for creating otherworldly personas for their characters.

It was not as fluid and dynamic as one Peter Jackson screenplay to Lord of the Rings, but there was effort in Duncan Jones and the narrative condensing books’ and comics’ worth of narrative into a two-hour spectacle worthy of both praise and ire from fans and non-fans alike.
Sadly, the writing and narrative were ‘praise-worthy,’ but were not particularly good. Events and dialogue were scattered, with one barely making up what was happening unless one is familiar with the premise of the Warcraft franchise.

It was not a matter of having a hard time how to summarize parts of the story, but a matter of bringing the perspective of two sides (humans and orcs) with their own intricacies and inter-fighting into one fluid retelling. Warcraft fails in this regard.

Instead of telling an epic narrative on how one dying world has forced a warrior-race to find a new home, and how the people of said home would defend themselves, along with the vast intricacies of politics and inter-realm intrigue, the movie simply scrapes off the sheer beauty of Azeroth’s complexity and tells a war from the perspective of about ten people and two CGI armies.

In the end, then, it may have all been a matter of lore. The first time I heard of the cast, I was nervous they were tackling the games before the more well-known Warcraft III, with only the baby Thrall, Medivh and Guldan being perhaps the only familiar characters. This actually prompted me to re-read my lore and watch a fair amount of Nobbel87’s videos (which are actually helpful. A few days into the channel and the film’s premise would actually unfold).

This is where the problem begins and ends, because the film had turned out to be more lore-dependent than I had expected. There were a lot of events and potential subplots that were left unresolved that had relevant roles in the story’s development (Garona had a much darker role in the games, the real players behind the orcish invasion were almost never mentioned in the movie, and Thrall’s arrival at the hands of humans had a much deeper premise than anticipated. Basically almost all minor characters in the film with names have expansive backstories that were barely touched).

To be honest, I would have had a hard time appreciating the film had I not indulged myself with the lore and if I was not a fan myself. This is the film’s ultimate weakness.

Ordinary filmgoers may have a satisfying time with the two-hour adventure, and may even want a sequel regardless of whether they are fans or not. But dedicated followers of Warcraft and critics wanting to compare the film to other films in the genre may have a hard time convincing themselves the ticket price was a worthy investment.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Rhenn Taguiam
Rhenn Taguiam
Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.
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