The mysterious man at the box office had an exclamation point over his head. I accepted his quest, and stopped by the merchant to prepare. With food and carbonated potion in hand I ventured into a new realm. Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen Warcraft.
As a lover of both movies and video games I am always keenly interested when the latter crosses into the former. From awful trainwrecks like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li to genuinely fun popcorn flicks like Mortal Kombat, I’ve seen just about all of them. Some are worthwhile! Many are not. I barely know the world of Warcraft so I went into this experience hoping to see it both as a casual fan and as someone going in totally cold. I hoped that with Blizzard taking its properties very seriously as well as having lovers of the lore behind the camera that Warcraft would raise the bar for movies based on video games.
I…uh… I’ll get the negative out of the way first.
For those with no knowledge of the games Warcraft feels pretty impenetrable. This story is filled with what can feel like an overwhelming number of proper nouns. Lothar travels from Ironforge to Stormwind to speak with Llane about seeking help from Medivh. Khadgar meets Garona in Elwynn Forest and learns of Gul’dan’s plot for Azeroth and… It’s a lot. The viewer needs someone to ground them, a character that they can invest in to guide them through all of this dense fiction. This is the film’s biggest failing. The narrative careens from event to event, character to character, spending almost no time to let us really learn who these characters are or why we should care about them. This is especially true for the humans. I don’t know if the king of Stormwind is actually a good person or not. Khadgar renounced his vows, so should I think of him as a coward or a free thinker? Lothar is a knight and…what else? A roguish hero? A noble do gooder? What exactly IS a “guardian?” Who appoints one?
The video games have many hours over which to unfold a story. This two hour experience is trying to serve too many characters. No one person or story has the time to breathe. At best this creates a plot that is mostly free of any sort of nuance or real interest. At worst this creates moments that are without any proper explanation, are befuddling, and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Streamlining and script polishing would really do this movie good.
I have good things to say, honest!
The exception to my complaints about not being invested in any characters is Durotan, our central orc character. I found myself intrigued by his plight as he fights to find a home for his people while questioning the leadership bringing them there. His moments of weighing the safety of his family and the future of his race are the moments I was engaging with the story. His path is still a fairly straightforward one but it’s more interesting than that of the humans which boils down to just trying to stop the invading monsters.
One thing that helps me invest in Durotan is the incredibly high quality visuals, and it’s here that Warcraft shines. All of the orcs, save for one, are entirely CG creations that are incredibly detailed and believable as living beings. Between his story and the special effects I would have been happy with Durotan being the central figure of the entire movie. Battles are brutal and hard hitting. Magic effects are bright and powerful. Sweeping vistas feel real and Stormwind has been recreated with impressively meticulous detail. Fans of the games who have lived in this world for countless hours will revel in seeing it all come to life with astounding beauty. That in itself is a mighty thrill.
For the muggle coming into this cold, Warcraft will be at best a serviceable, colorful, but unrewarding fantasy movie. Its plot is threadbare. It manages to feel like too much is going on while having little to show for it. But if you’re a fan of the games already and bring with you a love for these characters, places, and stories, you will have an absolute blast at seeing it all brought to life. Warcraft excels visually and drops the ball narratively. I know there are great tales to tell in Azeroth. I hope this movie gets a sequel that can bring one of those to the screen. Take these lovingly crafted visuals and pair them with a better script and you’ll have an experience truly worth all the time shown when you type “/played.”
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
The Purge: Anarchy – I felt the first movie in The Purge franchise was a bit of a waste. Despite its decently interesting conceit, that once a year for twelve hours all crime is legal, the movie itself was a pretty straight forward home invasion movie. With this sequel we have what I wanted originally; people stuck out on the streets during the annual Purge and some insight into the philosophy behind it and the state of America that led to it. Overall an average film is you want some gunplay peppered with justifications for horrific violence and a dash of conspiracy against the lower classes.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension – What do you do after five installments of a horror franchise built on invisible spirits and minimal special effects? Show the spirits and use tons of special effects! In this (alleged) final installment of the series the victims have a special camera that can actually see demonic forces that plague them. While I actually do like most of the visuals used for the spirits the rest of the movie with its found footage jump scares and static night shots feels tired and worn. At one point when the characters are trying to see the threat with their own eyes the demon is literally a person with a sheet thrown over them. This series is out of ideas.
Get Hard – Will Ferrell enlists the help of Kevin Hart to teach how to be tough and survive “on the inside” before he goes to jail for stealing from his investors. Ferrell brings his common manchild routine as he proves to be inept at nearly everything asked of him. Hart plays well off him and the two make a pretty effective comedy duo. There are some real laughs to be found here, especially when Ferrell tries his own unique brand of trash talking.
Now You See Me 2 – This sequel is about as ridiculous as the idea of a group of magician thief vigilantes sounds. Despite claiming to just be using normal magic tricks they do impossible feats and the convoluted twists of the plot border on absurd. But magic relies on misdirection and showmanship and this movie has both of those in spades. Filled with a charming cast including Daniel Radcliffe taking a turn as a
Slytherin villain, this gimmicky twist on a popcorn heist flick is a guilty pleasure like its predecessor.
Night of the Creeps – The college nobody just wants to win the heart of the girl of his dreams. That’ll be difficult when there are alien slugs turning everyone into zombie like killing machines. This 1986 movie is an odd mash-up of a sex crazed “get the girl” comedy and a legit horror flick complete with plenty of fake blood, exploding heads, and gruesome practical effects. It’s strange to be sure but I really kind of enjoyed the oddity of it. Worth seeing for fans of genre movies.
Spring Breakers – Four college girls rob a local store for the money to go on spring break. Believe it or not, this is their moral high point. They soon get wrapped up in the criminal exploits of a local dealer and things go downhill from there. This movie’s unique trait is its dreamlike feel. The entire movie floats from scene to scene with audio from other scenes overlaid the video and a repetition of dialog and sound effects used to punctuate moments gives everything an almost surreal vibe I found interesting. It’s all style over substance though as I never felt invested with any of the characters nor did I get a sense that anyone had gone through some major change by the end of the story.
The Boy – A young woman is hired to babysit a young boy and must follow a strict set of rules. Oh, and the boy is actually just a lifeless doll. OR IS IT?! Odd occurrences keep the poor woman on edge as she questions her sanity. Credit to the writers for doing something I did not expect about halfway through as well as Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead for being better than this movie probably deserves. I enjoyed the atmosphere of guessing game of this flick. As far as evil doll movies go, it’s not Child’s Play, but it’s definitely more entertaining than Annabelle.
X-Men: Apocalypse – Our mutant heroes start to bridge the gap between the hairy Professor X era and the bald Professor X era and the first casualty is continuity. With the last movie essentially rebooting the timeline facts and dates are fast and loose. This surprisingly violent installment deals with Apocalypse, an ancient blue dude with the mutant power of reverb. There are some really entertaining moments here but pacing problems make the movie feel overly long and disjointed. A forced cameo from Wolverine is thrilling but pointless. Ultimately just another X-Men movie; fun, but forgettable.
Under the Skin – Right from the opening credits I knew this movie was going to be in the “artsy and strange” category. Scarlett Johansson is an alien that has donned human form in order to seduce men and lure them back to her
featureless black void apartment where they are…harvested? For…something? As much as that sounds like the setup for a late night Skinemax flick the movie doesn’t focus on the sex. Instead it is concerned with the different things that physical intimacy can mean to different people and how through it our central alien begins to see humans as more than just tools. Dialog is so scant and inconsequential and the visuals so emotive that this could be a silent film and be just as effective. I think though the choices here venture a little into “artistic douchebaggery” and the message of the film could have been stronger with a slightly more traditional approach.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – I feel like the audiences these movies should aim for are kids and hope to snag some adults based on nostalgia. That first movie felt off because it’s humor, grit, and corporate big wig villain aimed for older kids and teenagers in between ultimately making it feel off and inappropriate. Luckily this sequel knows it’s a kids movie and embraces all the crazy that comes with it. A dirt simple plot about world domination just for the sake of world domination is bolstered by fun action, crazy contraptions, likeable turtles, and family friendly humor make this a solid movie for children. I myself was just happy to see these icons from my youth done justice in a new way. This movie isn’t for me, but I’m glad it exists. And skip the 2014 one.