The good news for those wanting to see Warcraft is that it is perhaps the best film ever made to be based on an existing video game property. The bad news for these same people is that that bar is set at an exceptionally low point.
In the worlds of video games there are many rules that exist for very good reason. It’s important for these rules to keep balance between players so that no one element of the game is out of balance with the others lest all other aspects of that game get ignored or so that those who choose to try something else don’t get frustrated and quit. Games have to give the illusion that everyone is a hero, but no one is any more of a hero than anyone else, at least as much as is possible. Movies also have rules, but these rules exist for very different reasons. They exist to keep an audience in suspense but not be confused, to give them something fantastic that is still grounded in the familiar. When people try to create a feature film out of a video game, they far too often focus on the rules of the game without realizing that not only do they not need to worry about game rules, those rules are actually detrimental to making a good film. In short, game balance does not at any time equate to good drama.
Warcraft very nearly, but not quite, manages to avoid this trap. We have some good set up. We can understand the motivations of the villains, we can see that the magic the villains use have some rules which must be followed, even if they aren’t spelled out in detail, and the video game tropes often have a point and place within the story arc. However, then we get to the fan service that throws in bits from the video game just to get a smile and a chuckle from the gamers in the audience, the magic used by the heroes has no discernible rules like the villains’ magic does and just seems to be used as a get out of jail free card for the writers, and entire long stretches of film that have nothing whatsoever to do with the movie we are watching, but are there purely to set up a future film and make the Warcraft players in the audience think , “Hey, I know that character.”
The cast of Warcraft is an absolute who’s who of “I think I recognize that person from something…” and “I know that name from somewhere…” actors, and their performances are for the most part fairly bad to mediocre. As seems to be a fairly sad trend lately, it’s the CGI characters and actors that seem to be giving the best performances here. The humans in the film, and the handful of orcs that aren’t created by a computer, give very lackluster, phoned-in performances, while those who did voice acting and motion capture for their CGI alter egos are the ones who really seemed to get into their roles and give their all.
Another fairly common but very recent trend that shows up in Warcraft is visual effects that are very well done when focusing on characters, but are much less interesting and intelligible when showing magic or other fantastic elements of the world. It does seem like Warcraft had a lower budget than your standard summer blockbuster release, and they did focus on what was important in this department, but it still can get distracting when certain things are so well detailed, but the rest looks like mostly empty backgrounds and blobby light flashes.
Warcraft came closer to getting it right than any other video game movie before it, but closer in this case is still too far away to get my recommendation. You will enjoy yourself if you are obsessed with the video game. If you’ve played the game in passing, then watching it in the future on a streaming service may be worth it to you. If you’re not a fan of Warcraft, though, and especially if you’re not a fan of video games in general, then there is nothing here for you. Hopefully Hollywood will translate a video game franchise right someday, because you know they’ll keep trying, but Warcraft isn’t the one.
Rating: 3.6 out of 10