Sunday, July 3, 2016

Warcraft: Stay home and play World of Warcraft instead


Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Batton, Ben Foster

You know, at this point in my life, I should know that I shouldn’t watch video game movies. I shouldn’t. I just should not. The issue is that Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WoW) video game sucked me in when I started college, and I got caught up in the nostalgia of that universe—and I actually paid money to watch this movie. I was not impressed with the film at all. Did it touch me in the Department of Nostalgic Feels? Sure. Did it make me want my money back? Hands down, yes.

Warcraft seems to take place in the time before the events of the video game WoW, which is where most of my knowledge of this universe lies. Gul’dan, an evil orc sorcerer, builds a massive, magical gate by which to send himself and his orc brethren to Azeroth; the issue is that Azeroth is already inhabited by humans, night elves, and dwarves—a group that normally goes by the title of the Alliance. As Gul’dan leads a war party of orcs through the portal to Azeroth, the captain of the humans’ forces, Anduin Lothar (Fimmel), seeks counsel from the Guardian, a powerful magic user known as Medivh (Foster). Lothar and Medivh attempt to protect Azeroth from the orcs’ onslaught, but that onslaught is reconsidered by Durotan and Orgrim, two orcs who realize that Gul’dan’s magic poisons and destroys the lands it touches—and that’s the reason why Gul’dan moved the orcs through the portal in the first place, since he basically usurped the orcs’ original home. Gul’dan must be stopped before all of Azeroth suffers the same fate.

I have to ask, dear reader: were you able to follow that last paragraph? There’s a ton of stuff happening in Warcraft, and the movie seems like more of a nod to WoW players than a real narrative. Even as a player of WoW, I recognized a lot of the names mentioned, but I was still miffed by quite a bit of it—it seemed like that one friend of yours who makes a joke and then smiles really wide and asks, “Did you get it? Huh? Right there? Huh?” There were mentions of Elwynn Forest, the beginning area in WoW for the human characters, Goldshire, another part of the humans’ starting area in the game, and even Dalaran, the floating city where magic users gather and study together—again, how much of this are you actually following if you’ve never played the game? There’s an awful lot of fan-service going on, and I suppose that’s to be expected in a video game movie—but this was piled way too deep.

In addition to the overbearing fan-service, the themes presented in this movie were mostly forced. One theme dwelled on racial issues, though this use of “race” refers more to the different kinds of beings in Azeroth, such as the “race of Men” (to steal Tolkien’s terminology), the “race of night elves,” etc. One character, Garona (Patton), represents a mixed-race being: half human and half orc; at one point in the movie, three main characters sit around a campfire and tell their backstories in an attempt to make viewers make deeper connections with those characters, and I still didn’t care about Garona (or anybody else, for that matter). Really, it seems like Garona’s only purpose in Warcraft was to sneakily add in a sexually-appealing orc character for—you guessed it—more fan service. Even the theme of fatherhood is tacked on, like the writers were trying to force the story to be deeper than it was. All of a sudden, Lothar’s son pops up in the movie with little to no backstory—and then he dies. Okay, well, sorry (not sorry), I still didn’t care about this character, but he’s gone now…so there’s that. If they really wanted to play up one particular theme, they should have stuck with the idea of a “homeland”—the orcs are trying to find a new homeland, and the humans are trying to defend theirs. Yes, it does come up that Lothar and the humans are fighting for Azeroth, and “For Azeroth!” does become a battle-cry here and there, but again, most of the themes in the movie are just thrown in for no reason.

Don't even try to tell me Garona is in here for anything more than fan-service sex appeal. Come on.
I know I’ve ragged on this movie a little at this point—okay, a lot at this point—but the shining point was really in the CGI. This movie shows us the height of motion capture technology, since several characters—and I think all of the orcs (except Garona)—are CGI. These shots are masterfully done, and I was truly amazed by how far CGI technology has come over the last few years. Before seeing Warcraft, I watched a Youtube video that helped explain how motion-capture CGI works, and it was fascinating. In the same vein, Gul’dan and Medivh using their respective magic spells was equally amazing. It didn’t take me out of the movie when I saw characters lobbing spells or opening huge portals to another dimension in a stone gateway. These instances of CGI felt very natural to the movie, and they helped make a very pretty movie (at times).

With that small glimmer of light, most of the budget was spent on CGI (I’m guessing), since the costuming was absolutely terrible. As I watched the movie, I could tell that the costuming wasn’t all that good, but I was trying to go along with things while sitting in the theater—you have to give things a bit of a chance, right? When talking to my partner about this movie, she pointed out that the CGI looked incredible, but the physical characters’ costumes—especially the soldiers’ armor—looked like cheaply-made plastic from a Halloween costume shop, and I’d have to agree. The WoW universe is quite stylized, such as the Alliance shields that have high-relief lions and eagles on them, and for as stylized as this movie tried to be, the costuming took me out of the movie way too much to enjoy things.

Watching people fight in that armor was also pretty awful, but I blame that more so on fight choreography. People who are supposed to be wearing heavy armor aren’t going to have much mobility in real life—but this isn’t real life. If you watch any of the WoW cinematic scenes that begin each new expansion of the game, there are incredible fight scenes, but Warcraft’s fights seemed bland, almost like they were done in half-hearted slow motion and sped up in post-production to make the fight scenes more fast-paced. I love watching escapist movies with interesting and different worlds, but all of these factors made it hard to watch Warcraft, as nostalgic as it felt to be placed in that universe again.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this movie--again, except for the CGI. If you’re looking to get that same nostalgia you felt from the vanilla WoW game, you’ll probably find it here, but If you’ve never played WoW before, you’re not going to have a great time. Even if you have played WoW, don’t hope for much. Before I gave up WoW, I think I’d logged about a thousand hours in-game, which is a pittance compared to many other players, but I feel like you need to play the game instead of watching the movie: the game has so much more content to get that immersion in the universe that Warcraft lacks. I’d love to see Assassin’s Creed, the new video game movie with Michael Fassbender that’s coming out soon—but do gamers expect too much from video game movies after logging extensive hours in the actual video games? What do you think?

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