“Humans and orcs clash in this feature-film adaptation of the popular fantasy video-game series. After realizing that their home is becoming uninhabitable, a race of orcs travel to the land of Azeroth. There, they encounter the realm's human denizens, who fight back against the invaders. In time, an orc warrior (Toby Kebbell) forges an alliance with a group of humans in order to overthrow his race's corrupt leader (Daniel Wu) and bring peace to the land. Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon), the film co-stars Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma), Dominic Cooper (The Devil's Double), Ruth Negga (World War Z), and Travis Fimmel (Vikings).” – AllMovie Guide
Warcraft is a film that knows exactly what it is; a glorified B-movie based on a video game inspired by tabletop RPGs crossed with a liberal dose of narrative hooks borrowed from a near endless supply of 1980s fantasy novels. As such, it’s highly derivative, overly familiar, and full of two-dimensional characters. And it’s completely unashamed of all of that. Unlike the original Dungeons & Dragons film adaptation (you know, the one with the so-called comic relief), Warcraft gloriously wallows in every possible cliché and trope its source material has to offer.
Of course, such brazen ignoring of good filmmaking doesn’t seem to be sitting too well with many of my peers in the movie critic biz. Because Warcraft cost a gazillion dollars to make and was directed by David Bowie’s son, there seems to have been some kind of expectation that the film was meant to be the next Lord of the Rings rather than just an adaptation of a game designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It probably would have been best if the majority of professional reviewers had simply given the movie a pass and left it to be enjoyed by the audience it’s so clearly aimed at. And, yes, there is an audience for this film. Finally, someone has made a new movie for those of us who miss the bygone days of epics such as Beastmaster and Ator: The Fighting Eagle!
Now obviously, thanks to its budget, Warcraft doesn’t look one bit like those sword and sorcery movies of old. Sure, Beastmaster may have had some guys in rubber bat suits lurking around and Ator had that giant cardboard spider, but neither film could have even thought about springing for scenes featuring legions of knights battling hordes of orcs (who as it turns out are basically Klingons with tusks and really big hands) while griffins swoop in and wizards rain lightning down on everybody. It’s all CGI, of course, but considering the source material, that’s really not a problem. After all, it would be rather disingenuous to go watch a video game adaptation and complain that it looks like a video game.
The only place where the film’s gaming origins really harm it is in its pacing. The majority of the film focuses on action, leaving the specifics of the plot to be relegated to quick, exposition heavy moments of dialog much like you would find in the cut scenes of your average video game. This is problematic because, surprisingly, there’s actually a lot of story in Warcraft involving orc politics, ancient magic, dysfunctional families, abandoned legacies, treacherous betrayals, and much more. It’s all presented pretty straight-forward, but the speed with which the film moves through its plot points makes it easy to get confused. And unlike a video game, you can’t just click on your journal to get back up to speed when you do.
That’s not to say the story is deep; let’s not embarrass ourselves. It’s just crowded. It is interesting to note, however, that this is the second new release in the last couple of months to have a central conflict that somewhat taps into the ongoing concerns over immigration. The first was Angry Birds (no, really) which blatantly offered up a fear-laden tale about welcoming immigrants into your country because it’s the nice thing to do, only to discover they just wanted in so they could blow everything up (watch it and tell me if I’m lying).
Warcraft, on the other hand, is a bit subtler (NO, REALLY). Here, we have displaced orcs flooding into a neighboring realm because their corrupt spiritual leadership has made their own homeland uninhabitable. Unfortunately, they’ve also been convinced by that very same leadership that the new land’s native inhabitants are the enemy. Caught in the middle is a handful of orcs (and the obligatory sexy half-orc, you’re welcome gamers) who see their leader’s action as a distortion of their traditions and would rather assimilate than resort to violence. Yeah, the plot is that much on the nose. A film version of Warcraft has been in the works for over a decade, so there’s no reason to assume such subtext is purposeful on the filmmakers’ part, but you know how art sometimes unconsciously imitates life.
Unfortunately, despite the sexy half-orc’s best diplomatic efforts, the resolution of Warcraft’s story ends in swordplay. Duh, it’s Warcraft. As to whether or not that’s how things will turn out in the real world, who can say? Alas, there’s no easy answer to the immigration issue. Even spiritual leaders like the U.S. Bishops can only offer general guidelines such as “people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families” but also that “a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.” It’s up to each of us to search our own conscious to determine how we think those guidelines should be applied.
While we do so, though, it might not be a bad idea to keep in mind this week’s first reading from Isaiah in which the Lord calls upon the displaced Jewish exiles returning from Babylonia to rejoice and promises them that they will rebuild Jerusalem and make it great again (No. Really.) But God understands that such an undertaking has no meaning if the people who live there aren’t spiritually renewed along with the land, and so He reminds them that while they should be joyous over reclaiming their home from those who took it from them, true comfort flows through Him alone. The condition of our souls must always be the first concern. That’s probably something to keep in mind no matter which side of the immigration debate we fall on.
Fortunately, while we weigh such heavy issues, we have big, stupid movies like Warcraft to take our mind off things for a couple of hours. Of course, it’s not going to make anyone forget Lord of the Rings anytime soon, but that should have been obvious to everyone (except for maybe movie critics) from the start. Accept it for the overblown schlock it is and you could just find yourself enjoying it. You might not want to listen to me, though. After all, I’m the guy that liked Beastmaster and Ator: The Fighting Eagle.