It’s pretty much impossible to make a good movie based on a video game, right? It might also be hard to follow up a successful start in film directing like Moon and Source Code with a hugely popular established property. Here’s the newest example of beating the odds: The Duncan Jones-directed Warcraft.
The film is the first movie adaptation of the Warcraft video game series that culminated (for now, at least) in the incredibly popular and culturally significant massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. In the film, the start of the conflict between humans and orcs are shown, in sometimes complicated and confusing detail:
The big, monstrous orcs are led by their evil leader Gul’dan (who uses a dark magic called Fel) through a magic portal to the human realm Azeroth where Durotan, the chieftain of the Frostwolf clan, pregnant Draka, warchief Orgrim Doomhammer, and half-orc outcast Garona, comes face-to-face with Azeroth military commander Anduin, a would-be magician Khadgar, King Llane (ruler of the Stormwind Kingdom) and the Guardian of Tirisfal, Medivh. Durotan is caught in a conflict between himself, his family, his leaders, the humans (are they human? they look human), and the magical Guardian.
Still following? I didn’t think so. I only barely kept up.
The film’s ensemble cast and high-fantasy setting can be confusing and off-putting to newcomers, but the plot remains digestible and understandable, and the magic and kingdoms aren’t overwhelming. It ends up being a very entertaining film, despite Warcraft noobs like myself that might be missing additional layers of story, characters, and cameos. Yet the film never makes you feel left out for never having played the games.
As the film’s alternate title (Warcraft: The Beginning) implies, this movie is definitely designed to kick off a big franchise. Characters and situations are introduced, many locations and races are shown but barely explored, and while the battle is won at the end, the war is far from over. It threatens hollowness – the thought that the movie might be a giant style-over-substance cash-in definitely popped up.
Warcraft looks amazing in IMAX 3D – it has one of the best uses of 3D I’ve seen in cinema. The stereoscopic cinematography is utilised to create unique perspectives, and really sell the broad, deep, and epic locations. But while they made a gargantuan Lord of the Rings-imitating epic, the film’s ensemble cast is just big enough, and the 2 hour running time is manageable rather than overlong. Maybe it’s just because I expected a video game movie, but Warcraft was surprisingly good. It’s visually striking, and engages despite it being a little by-the-numbers. Maybe the sequels will be more adventurous?
Warcraft (alternatively titled Warcraft: The Beginning) is a new film directed by Duncan Jones, based on the Warcraft video game series, from a script written by Jones, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen. It releases locally on Friday 10 June in IMAX 3D.