This new movie, Warcraft, is based on the franchise of video games and books by Blizzard Entertainment that include Warcraft: Orcs & Humans from 1994, all the way through the online World of Warcraft. These are all set in and around the world of Azeroth. It’s a high fantasy world and the Orc Horde comes through a portal to begin a ‘great war’. It’s populated by many races, including the standard humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, orcs and trolls – but also includes night elves, Tauren, and other races. The idea of a Warcraft movie has been kicked around for the last 10 years, and really, only now is the technology where it needs to be to portray it as beautifully as the games do.
Spoiler Alert up front on this one, I’m going through the whole plot because it was insane, and that’s the only way I can keep the names straight.
This movie begins with a voice-over narration that seems to imply this story was taking place in the past. We open on an Orc couple named Durotan and Draka. Durotan is the leader of the Frost Wolf clan, and Draka is pregnant with their first child. Their world is dying, and all the Orc clans are massing to follow their magical leader Gul’Dan to a new world.
First, however, the plan is to send through a ‘raiding party’. Originally Draka was not supposed to go, but she hides her pregnancy and goes with her husband. We learn that Gul’Dan’s magic may not necessarily be his own – it’s called the Fel, and seems to be powered by sucking the life out of prisoners (similar to what the skeksies were doing in the Dark Crystal if you remember that). Gul’Dan is dragging around a human/orc half breed named Garona – who seems to be used as a translator. Gul’Dan opens a giant portal to send the raiding party through, which results in Draka giving birth to their son, who seems to be born dead, but Gul’Dan uses some of the Fel to revive him – causing him to be green, though both his parents are not green. I mention this because it was a little difficult to follow throughout the movie which orcs were possessed by the Fel and which were not. Trust me, that’s not the most confusing thing in this…but it’s one of them.
We learn that the world the orcs have crashed into is populated by humans, dwarves, and some other folks (but we never really get to know much about them). Anduin Lothar is King Llane Wrynn’s right hand dude, either because they’ve always been friends or because Llane is married to Taria – who is Lothar’s sister. Well, the king and Lothar get word that villages are getting… pillaged? Looted? And many, many prisoners are being taken. Khadgar – who seems to be a mage or some sort that has recently left the order of mages (I’m not even going to pretend like I completely understood this bit), brings up that there is dark magic at play – and so the king, Lothar, and Khadgar have to go get the Guardian – who seems to be head magician in the land. His name is Medivh – and he is spending most of his time these days in the top of his castle/magic nexus shirtlessly building a golem out of clay and being attended by his buddy Moroes.
Once our party shows up and asks for his help, he agrees, even though Khadgar was poking around in his library. He puts on his fanciest robes and heads out with them to check out a village. Of course, they run into an Orc hunting party, lead by Blackhand, and including Durotan and his best bud Orgrim. Durotan has gotten a little worried about Gul’Dan’s plans, and is worried for his clan, so he’s thinking they need to overthrow him, and it might be a good time to ally with the humans.
Garona is with this Orc raiding party – I can only assume to translate stuff? That seems unnecessary, since they are taking everyone prisoner. The humans are a bit terrified of the Orcs at first (because they are huge and intimidating), but then Lothar figures out to beat them with smarts instead of brute force. Medivh studies the remains of the Fel, and Khadgar shows some pretty impressive magic skills for a dude who gave up the ‘calling’. He captures Garona, who they take back to the king.
Here she gives a bunch of exposition (they are orcs, they come from here, they’re looking for this, they’re following Gul’Dan…etc.)– Medivh heads back to his castle to ponder and research – Taria bonds with Garona and releases her. During their next outing – Durotan gets close enough to Garona to request that she set up a meeting between himself and the human king. Lothar is not sure about this, but they agree, and so Llane and Lothar go to meet up with Durotan and Orgrim, in what is the very best place for an ambush.
Orgrim tells Durotan he’s going to check on the perimeter – while through Garona’s translation, Durotan tells Llane about Gul’Dan’s power and plan – he’s collecting prisoners to build and power another, larger gate, to bring through the rest of the Orc Horde. This is all going very well when we realize that Orgrim actually ratted out Durotan to Gul’Dan. Blackhand appears, and very quickly his crew of bad Orcs (they’re green) start wiping out both Durotan’s group and Llane’s group. Medivh sets up a lightning wall to help (which actually is more hindering) and Lothar’s son, who was a guard for the king (did I forget to mention Lothar has a son that he’s overly protective of because his wife is dead? I knew I would miss something), gets trapped on the other side of the lightning wall and killed by Blackhand, very brutally – because Blackhand is trying to piss off Lothar.
Okay – so, that went poorly, Durotan gets captured, Khadgar figures out that Medivh is acting a bit sketchy and goes back to the place he left – which seems to be a floating magic school-type-place. Once there, he talks to a shadowy Glen Close (very similar to the windy Judi Dench in Chronicles of Riddick), who tells him that Medivh is infected by the Fel, and is now a threat.
Orgrim has an attack of conscious, regrets that he was a traitor, and tells Draka to take her baby and flee while Gul’Dan has the rest of the Frost Wolf clan killed so none of them can rescue Durotan. She doesn’t get very far, but sends the baby off, Moses-style. Lothar starts drinking, Medivh tells Garona a story that seems to imply that he’s her father (what?!?), then she gets real flirty with Lothar. Llane decides to send what he can from the Alliance to the gate to prevent the Orc Horde from entering this world by preventing Gul’Dan killing their people to open the gate, but locks up a drunk Lothar, whom Khadgar rescues by turning a guard into a sheep. Seriously.
Meanwhile, Durotan challenges Gul’Dan to a one on one honor fight for his own freedom, during which Gul’Dan cheats, and starts to lose the allegiance of the horde, because that’s not honorable. Durotan succeeds in exposing Gul’Dan as corrupted and horrible, but loses the fight, and then Gul’Dan basically terrifies the rest of the Orcs into following him anyway - so that was a huge waste. Lothar and Khadgar battle Medivh at his castle because he’s completely succumbed to the Fel now, and once successful (barely) that stops the gate from opening, so Lothar heads to the battle. Llane and Garona and troops rescue most of the prisoners, but while fighting – they get surrounded, and for some reason that I am still not entirely clear on, Llane decides it’s best that Garona kill him, instead of Blackhand, because then she will have more clout in the horde, and can help bring peace between the two people. Oh, wait, maybe I was clear on that. As Lothar arrives to grab the king’s body to head back home, he’s tackled by Blackhand, and challenged to one on one combat. Lothar surprisingly easily beats Blackhand, and just as Gul’Dan orders him killed anyway – Garona reminds Gul’Dan of their ways and traditions, and that if he kills Lothar, he will lose control of the horde completely.
The movie ends with a funeral for Llane, as Taria states his death will help bring peace, and Garona seems to be in charge of the horde, sort of, and a shot of Durotan and Draka’s little green baby being fished out of the water by some humans, while a voiceover by Durotan reminds us that he is from an ‘unbroken line of chieftains.’
That sounds like a lot, but that’s still with me leaving out Khadgar’s book research, the Alliance meeting, the dwarves creating guns, Lothar’s griffin, Blackhand’s confrontation with Gul’Dan, Medivh’s transformation as he’s possessed, and Garona implying that Khadgar would not survive sex with her.
Warcraft is directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son), who previous did Moon with Sam Rockwell, and Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal. Visually, the movie is stunning. It looks absolutely amazing, and if you’re going to see it – see it in 3D. The orcs are beautiful and are all performance capture, so yes, it’s all the actors playing those roles. The movie is vivid and lush, and you can tell those who made it loved the game and really wanted to do right by the source material. I think that’s both a positive and a negative. It made them want to include so many different characters and storylines that the movie feels a little overcomplicated. I never played any of the games, but from what I’ve read, most of the story and characters are from the first game, so in theory, they are setting themselves up for a franchise. The names are complicated, and sometimes tough to remember, but it’s that way with most fantasy worlds/stories, so that’s not much of an issue. But I do wish the characters would call each other by name more often. Reading IMDB after seeing the movie was the first time I learned Khadgar’s name. I’m not sure anyone called him that in the movie. Personally, I loved that the movie opened on Durotan’s story, and gave members from both sides leading roles – something that Jones added to the script after signing on to direct it. Everyone in it commits and seems to be having a good time, so credit to the cast for elevating the material when possible.
- Travis Fimmel plays Anduin Lothar, and certainly puts to use his experience from the History TV Show Vikings. He’s definitely on the rise, and this was a good choice for him. He’s very watchable, and though I first became aware of him on the CW Tarzan show from years ago (you heard me right), he’s certainly gaining new fans here and there.
- Paula Patton is usually one note, and that note is usually the pretty girl. She does just fine in this as Garona, and may have found a new niche as angry and then confused warrior. She gets makeup and prosthetics, while the rest of the orcs were all CG.
- Ben Foster plays Medivh, and while notorious for taking himself way too seriously (he packed ice and snow in his underwear for the scene in 30 Days of Night where his character walked through the snow so that he would be able to portray the ‘cold’ better), he does a good job in this. However, at no point did I believe he was a good guy, even when he was shirtlessly carving his golem. Shirtlessly carving a golem - not a phrase you get to use all that often.
- Dominic Cooper – young Howard Stark and newly minted Preacher – plays King Llane. He’s just fine, and certainly pulls off royalty without an issue, but didn’t have much to do but make kingly decisions and ride into battle.
- Toby Kebbell plays Durotan, and really, I would argue is the lead of the movie. Durotan looks amazing, and really is the most sympathetic character in the movie with the best storyline as he tries to free his people from their oppressive leader and find them a new peaceful world.
- Ben Schnetzer plays the young magician Khadgar. He was pretty fun and did a good job of portraying a guy who always has a trick up his sleeve.
- Robert Kazinsky (from Pacific Rim) plays Orgrim, and he’s such a Warcraft player that he used to play 18 hours a day, according to him. Orgrim is a really interesting character, and I can’t wait to see if they get a sequel, what he does next.
- The wonderful Clancy Brown plays Blackhand, and becomes quite a villain/henchman to Gul’Dan. He doesn’t have an arc so much as starts out bad and then gets straight up evil.
- Daniel Wu, from Into the Badlands on AMC (catch up on that if you missed it), plays Gul’Dan, and he’s actually a really interesting villain. Is he bad from the beginning? Is he a pawn of the Fel? Is he guided by something else? Well, we know that he’s all evil – and surprisingly good at hand to hand combat when it comes down to it.
- Ruth Negga from Agents of SHIELD and Preacher plays Lady Taria, Lothar’s sister and Llane’s wife. She has very little to do but walk around in great outfits and be queenly.
- Anna Galvin plays Draka – and she’s very cool for the short time she’s in the movie.
- And because the movie was shot in Vancouver, Callum Keith Rennie is in it, just as he’s in everything shot in Vancouver. Remember that season of BSG where he kept Starbuck prisoner and just kept coming back after she killed him over and over again? I’m so used to him being a villain that it was very awkward to see him as Medivh’s manservant and assume he wasn’t some horrible villain in hiding.
Listen, it’s gotten terrible reviews, and yes, it’s overlong and over-complicated, but – as I said – it looks amazing, and whether or not you played the game, if you are into fantasy movies and stories, give this a chance, I think you will enjoy it. I was not expecting much, so I certainly enjoyed it more than I expected.
7 out of 10 – Points for Durotan being awesome, and for that baby being really cute until he growls. Lost points for Ben Foster being weird.
Bonus – Travis Fimmel as a very CW version of Tarzan - It had Lucy Lawless and Mitch Pileggi - so of course I watched every episode...