There has never been a great movie based upon a video game. Hell, there hasn’t even been a good movie based on a video game. So naturally there was some optimism when Duncan Jones came aboard the movie adaptation of Warcraft. Jones was coming off back-to-back hits with Moon and Source Code, two smart sci-fi films that excelled in filmmaking craft and story structure. If anyone was ever going to crack the nut of video games adaptations, Jones would be our guy. At least that was the foolish hope I held as I entered Warcraft. Then I sat through Warcraft, leaving the theater convinced that there is no more futile pursuit than adapting a video game to the screen.
The popular game from Blizzard Entertainment took a decade to bring the screen since its initial announcement in 2006, with Sam Raimi having been attached at one point. Yet over that decade with all the minds that had a crack at the material, somehow the best that anyone could do is the wretchedly dull, confusing story that Jones co-wrote with Charles Leavitt. To say that Warcraft has anything resembling a story would be insult to storytellers everywhere with the ability to craft stories where things of consequence actually happen.
Warcraft opens with a voiceover explaining that orcs and humans have been at war for years. To compliment this voiceover we see a one-on-one battle between an armored human and massive green orc. It’s a visually exciting sequence. There’s just one problem: I have absolutely no clue what movie this scene is from. Warcraft is about how the orcs and humans came to conflict, a series of benign events that are left only to be resolved in the planned sequel – a sequel that will likely never get made.
The leader of the orcs, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), has just mastered a form of magic and opens a portal to the human world. Since Gul’dan’s power works only from sucking the life out of lifeforms, he can only send his warriors to the land of the humans before gaining enough prisoners to fuel the portal to transfer the whole orc race over – apparently the orc homeland is a wasteland, but that isn’t made clear until the film is almost completed. Among the orcs going through the portal are Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and his pregnant wife Draka (Anna Galvin), noble warriors that aren’t the genocidal maniacs like their leader. When Draka give birth to their stillborn child, Gul’dan uses his powers to revive the infant and earn the trust of his warrior underlings.
On the human side of things, King Llane (Dominic Cooper) rules benevolently over his people with the aid of his trusted warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel). When the orcs start laying waste to villages, Lothar is visited by Khadgar (Ben Schetzer), a former student of the magical arts, joins him to investigate the mystical misdeeds at play – but really he’s just there because the hackneyed story demands a younger hero. They recruit the help of Medivh (Ben Foster), the Guardian, a master of the mystics that could be the lone combatant to Gul’dan’s dark powers. Before long, the humans are able to enlist the help of Garona (Paula Patton), a half-orc that occupies the middle ground between the (not really quite yet) warring species.
No matter how nonsensical my plot summary was, it was infinitely more coherent than entirety of Warcraft. This is a movie that spends a majority of its dialogue trying to explain what is happening without making a lick of sense. Characters move from one scene to another to sit and explain what is happening. Scene upon scene of deadening exposition kill whatever goodwill any visual splendor the creature and world design may bring. As the film progresses, the events of the film make even less sense than before. From a sheer storytelling perspective, the choices present in Warcraft are entirely confounding.
When reaching the conclusion of Warcraft, it’s baffling when you realize that none of the film’s central story has been resolved in the least. The most important moments, what are intended to be crucial plot points, are nullified from every possible angle. Main characters (I won’t say who) die, but their intended impact is a total whiff each and every time. The incompetence carries over into every aspect of the story, from the obvious villain twist to fact that nothing is resolved by the film’s conclusion. Hours after seeing the film, I’m still confounded by a majority of the storytelling decisions. I’d explain them in further detail, but I wouldn’t want to give them any more thought than their creators, which I’m afraid I may already have done.
A movie with such a massive budget and such bewildering content would normally be a goldmine for the so-bad-it’s-good crowd, yet the self-serious tone and complete lack of unintentional camp simply leave Warcraft as being nothing more than a bloated misconception. Warcraft is the movie version of hardcore geek that tries to explain every little plot point, tell you this expansive, redundant explanation of what they like instead of getting right to the point – big-ass orcs, magic-wielding mages, and swashbucklin’ soldiers. Even when the film establishes these aspects it still screeches to a halt to tell us even more what’s happening, and yet nothing happens. Seriously. Nothing happens in Warcraft. Yes, characters die, but their deaths are entirely meaningless in the story (HA!) is trying to tell.
Warcraft might feature some of the geekiest moments in all of cinema. That doesn’t mean that Warcraft has any moments that might be understood by the slightest of outsider (like myself), I’m truly saddened to see Duncan Jones make such an all-encompassing debacles as I’m a fan of his previous films. Without that aspect of interactivity, it remains impossible to replicate what makes a popular video game a hit on the silver screen. The audience isn’t dropped into a fantastical world, their dropped into a world where more is explained than shown. I sat there jaw-agaped and listless as I viewed lush visuals complimented with an inconsequential story. All the money and resources poured into Warcraft have yielded nothing but a movie that is neck and neck with Batman v Superman as the year’s worst blockbuster. With horrid performances, an incomprehensible story, and deadly dull pacing, the only thing that is fantastical about Warcraft is its sheer ineptitude which seeps into every achingly monotonous moment of this misguided blockbuster.
Completely inept as a movie, Warcraft is the latest film fiasco based upon a video game, spending most of its running time trying to explain what is happening in this blundering, confusing story.