First published on GameSpot.
Warcraft opens with a scene that is familiar to fans of the franchise, and sets the tone of the conflict to follow: a dramatic brawl between a human soldier and orc warrior, with a voiceover insinuating that the true enemy lies beyond this clash. It is a straightforward manner of introducing the two opposing factions to newcomers, but the story quickly gains traction.
The movie jumps erratically between locations in the Warcraft universe. Characters are barely introduced before the film moves onward, and the quick, successive cuts between scenes and juxtaposing geographical landscapes verge on becoming an overload of information. If it weren't for my familiarity with Warcraft lore, the disjointed pacing of the film would be much more confusing. And while I am able to grasp what is going on because of the story's close adherence to the source material, the constant switch in focus makes the film feel rushed and bogs the narrative down.
On the flipside, the regular scene-jumping means that an action-packed battle is never far off. Fight scenes are the film's highlights, choreographed and shot with a style that evokes its video game origins. In particular, the muscular orcs clash spectacularly in Warcraft's CGI sequences, with each punch and weapon swing feeling impactful. The orcs are a warrior race, and their ferocity is brought to life in Warcraft through their battlecries and brutish brawls. One particularly memorable scene in which the camera sweeps high over the massive horde, assembling in the thousands and ready to invade the human world, serves as a wonderful recreation of one of the most pivotal moments in the Warcraft universe and left me breathless.
Orc protagonist Durotan is a delightful balance of vicious and honourable; when not throwing his enormous fists at enemies, the orc warchief speaks expressively and acts with a civility that belies his burly appearance. The orcs may seem bestial, but they still respect and adhere to their traditions of old. As a result, the film's portrayal of the orcs is not only faithful to the lore, but ironically produces characters who feel much more relatable (and likeable) than the human compatriots they share scenes with.
Indeed, if only Warcraft's humans were as interesting as the orcs. The human characters' quick introductions leave little room for back story, and the bevy of key characters only further convolutes their presence. There are so many characters vying for screen time that none of their arcs catch an opportunity to be explored properly--some humans jump in only to disappear quickly, teleporting away and serving little purpose other than to move the plot along. Half-orc Garona in particular has outstandingly weak motivations. It is a shame that the movie reaches for such faithful portrayals of the Warcraft universe's characters, only to have their existence feel stiff or boring in the overarching story. It's hard to care about the plight of the humans when the orc warchief is trying to save his clan, his newborn son, and has to stand against the exploitation of his own people at the hands of a corrupted leader in the process.
Outside of the orcs and humans, other races also make cameo appearances that are ultimately detrimental to the film. The visual portrayal of the high-elves and Kirin Tor mages in particular is cringe-inducing in their cheap look; if Warcraft is supposed to be a high-fantasy movie, their real-life realisations are out-of-place at best, and detrimental at worst.
Warcraft is crafted for the enjoyment of its video game fans. The Warcraft universe serves as more than just tacked-on references in this fantasy film, it is the heart of its story, characters, and cinematic style. It is unfortunate that despite its faithful recreation of the game, several solid weaknesses prevent it from being a well-rounded film. Still, there are plenty of moments for Warcraft fans to geek out over. And if the ending is anything to go by, there may be many more of these to come, for better or worse.