Sunday, June 5, 2016

Review: WarCraft: The Beginning

So, today I watched the WarCraft movie, milking every bit out of those babysitters. Take that! Anyway, just for a littlebit of referencer, I've played WarCraft first some twenty years ago. WarCraft II: Tide of Darkness, that is. I remember reading the manuals - those were printed and full of lore back then - about how the magician Medivh invited the Orcs to Azeroth and yadda yadda. I've also played WarCraft 3, but never World of WarCraft. So I'm familiar with the lore, but not overly much so, and I haven't been back to the franchise since around 2007 or something. That's just for reference, so you can put my own perspective on the movie in context. Some perspective coming now, right after the jump! 

Remember those cutscenes Blizzard was always famous for? Lavishly rendered and advancing the story? Did you always think that they would be much better with a little less highbrow storytelling and edited behind one another without the stuff told in the actual game? That is, pretty much, WarCraft: The Beginning. 

Not that I didn't want the movie to be good. When the logo of Blizzard Entertaintment flimmered on the screen, a deep emotion rushed at me. You know, ten or fifteen years ago, this was the stuff of dreams. Back when there was no Nerdstream, but only nerd niche culture, detached from the wider accepted popculture. But unfortunately, the movie isn't good. It's not terrible, at times it's pretty cool. But it's a disjointed mess, and we won't be able to talk about it without spoilering, so consider this a fair warning since I will need to talk about the story and character. 

A friendship lost in the editing room
The story, it goes thus: Lothat, commander of the Stormwind forces, hears of slaughtered garrisons and investigates, joined by a rogue sorcerer named Khadagar and the Guardian Medivh, a powerful sorcerer. He encounters a orc war party, led by - among others - Durothan of the Frostwolves. The orcs came through a portal fed by powerful Fel magic, led by evil schaman Gul'dan. For Durothan and the humans alike it becomes quickly apparant that the Fel magic is demonic and therefore evil, and they try to forge an alliance, which is hindered by traitors on both sides. The humans therefore have to risk a frontal assault on the portal to close it before the Horde comes through in force. 

This is only the barebones plot. There's a lot of stuff happening around this - a lot. And most of it just sort of happens, without much explanation or connecting tissue. This thing is in dire need of a Director's Cut, that's for certain. But not all of this can be chalked up as a studio forcing a cutting down to a more cinema-friendly format, as clearly, there are structural issues pervading this thing left and right. 

Gul'dan, looking sinister
First and foremost, the movie assumes way too much. It assumes that you bascially know who everyone is and that you are instantly invested in their respective fates, which is always a bad assumption to make. Plus, it's all over the place tonally, with main human character Lothar always cracking dumb jokes that fall totally flat, a habit he drops about half-way into the movie. I guffawed a lot in this movie, by the way, but certainly not like the producers intended. This is due to the dialogue, which lets the video games look like Shakespeare in comparison. Really, that stuff is mind-numbingly bad at times. 

But to return to the story, one of the main flaws to me, besides its overreliance on your familiarity with the lore, is its heavy focus on Medivh. The guy is way too powerful not to make everyone with him kind of redunant, which leads to many contrived plot points of him teleporting around or taking too long or whatever. Everytime he comes up, the energy is sucked from the narrative and does what the WarCraft cutscenes always did: mistake epic magic stuff with actual stakes. 

Fresh from the LARP.
An even bigger problem than Medivh, however, is Garona. Not only does she look like she came directly from a LARP session, the only orc having (CGI-)make-up and prosthetic teeth, her character also has an importance that is never explained. Much plot in the second act revolves around her character, including a close bond with the king that is never explained but simply happens, or the seeds of a love story with Lothar that is so chopped that parts definitely were left behind in the editing room. Garona is always there, always important, and never once is explained why. I still don't know who or what she is despite two characters asking her exactly that in the movie (where the script instead has her wandering around the throne room and ignoring everyone, including said king). The whole character and her involvement is a mess. 

Where the second act of the movie is at times boring and drawn out and at other times jumping over vital information, the third act totally falls apart. By now it has been revealed that Medivh is in fact evil and somehow connected to the Fel (also never explained how and why, but he opens the portal for some reason and transforms to a demon) and so Lothar and Khadagar take out to stop him. That fight is the first mess, since Lothar goes up against a golem that...does things...and then doesn't...and then does again...while Khadagar is also magic. In the end, they defeat Medivh. But said guys plans were to lure the king into a trap, which is also a giant pointless battle in which Garona also takes part for some reason. And then more stuff happens. And then, after everything is over, Lothar arrives and starts the most pointless duel I've ever seen against some random bad dude he has a grudge against from earlier, defeating him in like 20 seconds by literally slicing his balls off. I don't make this shit up. 

"This is the script? Oh my god, shoot it before it hatches!"
The movie also makes up key concepts as it goes along. For example, Durothan wants to turn the orcs against Gul'dan by showing his evilness, in which he succeeds by challenging him to a duel in which Gul'dan cheats. The orcs start to turn against him, so he kills three of them and then they're all in Nazi rally mood and run towards battle, cheering. When Lothar is beaten unconscious in his (late) arrival to the battlefield, for some inexplicable reason the mentioned bad orc (Blackfist) challenges him to the same duel in which Lothar cuts off his balls. All the orcs then respect his strength and let him go despite Gul'dan's express orders, who is kept from killing him by Garona stating that "then he loses all the orcs". Eh, why? He didn't lose them when he cheat-magicked a fucking chieftain. But logic doesn't serve you at all in this jumbling mess. I could point out many more such things, but you get the gist. 

So, is everything bad? No. The movie is kind of unintentionally hilarious, which means you can watch it perfectly at the end of drunken game nights, and the ashtetics work incredibly well. The frankly ridiculous armor and muscles of those characters were transported flawlessly into the movie, the orcs look great and are able to pervey a wide range of emotions, and the landscapes have a distinct feeling to them. All looks incredibly artificial, but in a good, stylized way. Unfortunately, the CGI falters a bit when it comes to the actual fights which feel too weightless, but that may also be a consequence of the PG-13 rating. 

Durothar, disappointed by the script
So, in the end, the movie fails spectacularly in what it's trying to achieve. It's not worth watching in cinema (the 3D is also kind of meh), but you should give it a go nonetheless once it's available on streaming services or DVD.

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