By James Hancock June 9th, 2016
In writing a review of Duncan Jones’s Warcraft, I am put in a strange position where it is impossible to write a traditional review. While I am first and foremost a movie fanatic and I am capable of writing an objective review about the film solely on its own merits, I am also in the strange position of having devoted a disproportionate amount of my life to living in Azeroth (2005-2014). If you played any of the Warcraft RTS games, got sucked into World of Warcraft for any significant amount of time, read any of the many novels set in this world, or found yourself studying WoW lore on your phone in your spare time, you know what I mean. I stopped typing “/played” around 2012 or so because the number of days the computer would read back to me started to alarm me. If none of what I just said makes any sense, then chances are you are not a member of the Blizzard community and have managed to live a relatively normal productive life blissfully unaware of the almost supernatural pull that Blizzard’s fictional worlds can have on a person once they get their hooks into you. If you’re not a member of this community, you will likely find Warcraft to be narratively incoherent but a very fun piece of fantasy entertainment all the same. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, the rest of this review is geared toward my fellow maniacs who know what it feels like to lose yourself completely inside a virtual environment to the point where the world outside the game practically loses all meaning.
First and foremost, I think that the movie Warcraft is a movie made for the Blizzard community. Members of the community (which includes many millions of people around the world) will enjoy a healthy debate in the days to come about what worked in the film and what did not. I think there is plenty to celebrate about the film and also plenty to critique, but I’m not really interested in hearing any feedback from outsiders. It is a bit like when people who have been reading Marvel comics for several decades discuss the MCU. We know some of the films are better than others but we could not care less about hearing from people who don’t read comics or who enjoy writing about “superhero fatigue” and other such nonsense. For me, seeingWarcraft brought on a tidal wave of memories of the experiences I shared across several years with my friends in World of Warcraft. Before the movie even started, I was talking with total strangers about WoW and it only a matter of seconds before we speaking in a language that would be utterly incomprehensible to people unfamiliar with the game or even to those players we used to condescendingly refer to as “casuals”. Warcraft is a culture, and like any culture with millions of people this world has its own customs and rituals and people can’t expect to play catch up overnight. I think hardcore players will find watchingWarcraft to be an intensely personal, nostalgic experience and if a non-gamer decides to crap all over this movie in the presence of members of the Horde or Alliance (and my cinephile side might secretly acknowledge they have a point) they will quickly learn just what people mean when they talk about gamers expressing nerd rage.
But to put my involvement in perspective, I first entered this world back in 2005 when I bought a boxed set that contained Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion pack The Frozen Throne. I loved this game and played it through repeatedly but I soon realized that I was very late to the party. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans had been released back in 1994 followed soon thereafter by Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness(1995) and its expansion Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal (1996). Warcraft III and its expansion came in 2002 & 2003 respectively before finally in 2004 World of Warcraft was unleashed onto the world which changed the world of MMOs forever. Once again, I was late to the game. I caught South Park‘s now classic episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” right around the time of the release of WoW’s first major expansion The Burning Crusade (2007) and I immediately rushed out and bought the game. I was in business school at the time and it literally took me years to learn how to play the game properly before I could make myself useful in raids with decent guilds. Around the time of the Trial of the Crusader patch in the summer of ’09, I finally figured out how to be a decent tank and from that point on until my official retirement from WoW in the spring of 2014, World of Warcraft was a major part of my life. There were times where I would rage quit and disappear for a few months, but I always came back eventually. For a healthy five-year period, there were few thrills that could match the excitement of taking down a difficult raid boss after enduring all the melodrama and chaos that comes with trying to coordinate 10 to 25 freaks online and getting them to work as a team to do something that is impossible while playing solo.
But before I get too lost going down memory lane, I should say a few words about the movie Warcraft. In picking which story to tell, I think Duncan Jones made a very wise decision in choosing to go back to the beginning of the gameplay, but not the oldest WoW lore. There are plenty of hardcore players who have little patience for so-called “lore whores” and what matters most in the grand scheme of things in adaptingWarcraft to the big screen is adapting the experiences and story beats most players remember. The events dramatized in this film take us from the story of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans through the finale of Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. The movie beautifully sets the stage for a sequel that could focus exclusively on the human invasion back through the Dark Portal in Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, however, I imagine they will likely focus on the origin story of Thrall as depicted in Christie Golden’s 2001 novel Lord of the Clans. Doing so would lead perfectly into the events of Warcraft III which are my favorite stories in all of WoW lore. What I think will surprise a lot of hardcore players with Warcraft is how even they might find themselves at a loss at times following the plot. Only a small percentage of active players really know their stuff when it comes to characters like Garona and Medivh. For any player whose memories of the lore have faded, I’d advise a little refresher course on http://www.wikia.com/fandom before seeing this movie.
So if you’re thinking at this point that I seem to be saying a lot about Warcraft without reviewing the movie, you’re absolutely right. I invested so many years into this environment that trying to discuss it at all is like opening up a Pandora’s Box of thoughts and reflections that I can’t begin to control. What I will say is that I loved Travis Fimmel as Anduin Lothar, Paula Patton as the very sexy Garona, and Toby Kebbell as Durotan. Many of the actors appear a little lost amidst all the chaos of this movie, but these three main leads all nailed it as far as I am concerned. Duncan Jones also proved that he can expertly handle very CGI-driven action and integrate it seamlessly with live action performances in a way that was surprisingly exhilarating. I know some people want to see him return to character-driven work like Moon (2009) but I think every big studio is going to be knocking on his door in the near future. I’d love to see him take a crack at a big Marvel film, but even more I just want to see him continue this story. Was it perfect? Not by a long shot. Huge chunks of the movie feel missing and I imagine there is a longer, more satisfying cut waiting to be released on Blu-ray. That said, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Duncan Jones clearly knows and understands this universe backwards and forwards. There was not a single false beat or moment where I found myself rejecting something as not feeling organic to this incredibly immersive fictional environment. I can safely say I will be seeing it again and might even dust off Warcraft III for old time’s sake. I will never return to being an active member of the community again. I made a deliberate choice two years ago to put this all-consuming obsession behind me but I do dearly miss this world. If Duncan Jones were to deliver a Warcraft movie every few years, however, it would at least allow me to keep one toe in this universe that will always be a part of me. For the Horde!
I am one of the Co-Hosts of Wrong Reel.