Warcraft (Duncan Jones, 2016)

 Lok’tar ogar! Zug-zug.

W A R C R A F T (spacing concurrent to movie title, which is weird since Warcraft has always had closely tucked together letters): what a strange film! It has all the outward appearance of a Blizzard cutscene that occasionally strayed into schlocky Dungeons & Dragons movie territory. Not necessarily by overacting, but more by its staging and flat story. And yet, I totally loved it while seeing it, and now that I've been home for 24 hours I still dig it. Usually my brain uses that time to figure out what it really thinks of a film (and perceptions can then totally skew from what I thought in the cinema), but Warcraft firmly stays in the 'good' range.

I wonder why. For years I was unsure how to even approach a Warcraft film. How to keep it from being too pulpy? Would it focus on random characters adventuring in this huge, huge world? Instead the film more or less follows the events of the first game, with the addition of the Medivh storyline and taking into account the retconned story of the Orcs as noble shamans instead of bloodthirsty savages. Duncan Jones does a fine job translating this to a briskly moving tale with perhaps one too many male lead character with long hair and a beard, but hey, that's fantasy video games for you. The audience sported diehard fans howling at the sight of a Murlock in the frame, and people who knew nothing of Warcraft but were thoroughly entertained as well.

Make no mistake: this is a cartoon. There are few noteworthy themes, emotional development is absent and the characters that are present are as two-dimensional as cardboard cutouts. This in itself is unfortunate: the likes of Lothar, Garona or Khadgar have enough going on that you could construct a valuable narrative out of them, but the movie fails at doing anything interesting with them. Beyond actually fleshing out backstories and motivations, there was potential for Medivh to be much more of a comic relief as a rambling magic addict, or Lothar as the pained hero struggling with raising his son. As it is, the most human of them all is the Orc Durotan, burdened by an invasion while he'd rather see his own son grow up in peace.

Still, the movie whizzes by with lots of fun and excitement (if you like Blizzard cutscenes). The best moments are the ones where you start to see the traditions and systems in place in the Horde, and how the Orcs are in fact torn by their old ways and the new-found demonic savagery. The scant moments when Gul'dan tries to have his way, but crashes on his men's scorn for being dishonorable, are kind of exciting.

Now that it's over, I can't wait for a second film. And more specifically, for the moment when they get to the events of Warcaft 3, when things'll get really interesting with Arthas, Blood Elves, the founding of an Orc state and the undead. The big caveat here is that this is mostly due to lovely nostalgia. Make no mistake, this is a deeply flawed, cartoon movie, but as a secret nerd delight it has its merits. Alliance, ho! (Or what was it again?)

Roderick Leeuwenhart


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