is the Best Video Game Movie Thus Far
Movies based on Video Games have established a well-proven stereotype; shallow, campy, over-the-top and almost always, disappointing. They've ranged from low-budget cheesiness like Mortal Kombat, to big-budget star-driven wanna-be epics like Prince of Persia.
Warcraft had every chance to follow in those exact same footsteps, and when initially presented with its world, it may seem like more of the same shallow, effects-driven fan-service that we've seen before. But after seeing the movie, I'm extremely happy to conclude that this was without a doubt, the best Video Game Movie that I have seen thus far.
As a precursor, I admit that I haven't played the World of Warcraft game, that the movie is based off of. I have however played Warcraft 3, the real-time strategy incarnation of the game. The characters in this movie were all new to me, so I didn't have much fore-knowledge going into the movie.
A different perspective
Warcraft tells the story of a first encounter between two very different civilizations; the Orcs and Humans. Each race has its own dynamics and culture, which are very much at odds with each other, which in turn sparks a war. The Orcs are the instigators, while the Humans are merely reactionary.
In these instances, we're mostly used to seeing stories told from the Human perspective. If there's an Alien Invasion, it's from the Human perspective. If there's a battle against some supernatural force, it's from the Human perspective. Even prior fantasy stories, such as Lord of the Rings are mostly based around the perspective of human or human-like races. In fact, we've gotten pretty used to seeing Orcs as mindless beasts who are only interested in death and destruction.
Warcraft breaks this trend, by making the Orcs the most compelling characters onscreen. They have internal conflicts, wavering loyalties, intricate tribal traditions and hierarchies, and a deep sense of honour. They do reign a fair amount of chaos on the Human world, leaving destruction in their wake, but no one could accuse these creatures of being unthinking beasts. Even the introduction to our primary Orc protagonist, war-chieftain Durotan, is by his pregnant wife's side, as they playfully discuss their future child. This paints a very different picture from the Orcs that we've grown accustomed to seeing, and it is truly refreshing.
The majority of the character development throughout the movie remains with the Orcs. There are moments where we delve into the human characters and get a glimpse of their own histories and motivations, but this is minimal and can sometimes even seem a little flat in comparison.
This movie is really about the story of Durotan and his people's journey to find a home. I wonder if the majority of the criticism that has been levelled at this movie is due to the fact that the usual "heroes" are less compelling than the brutish creatures. This is a fresh take on Fantasy, and the Video Game movie genre as a whole, so I found myself pleasantly surprised.
Action, Character & Effects
It would do this film a great disservice if I didn't mention the epic, yes absolutely EPIC battle sequences it depicts. Director Duncan Jones expertly captures the action up-close without it ever feeling muddled or confusing. You feel the weight of every hammer's fall, and the sharpness of each sword. The action scenes were exceedingly entertaining, and sometimes I found myself even cringing whenever a particularly heavy blow would fall. It felt like being in the middle of the fight, and even if you see this movie just for the action, I believe it would be time well-spent.
A note on Paula Patton's character, Garona, a half-breed Orc character; throughout the marketing campaign for the movie, she was shown in Orc garb, which was quite revealing, while she struck a provocative pose. Now I understand that the target audience of this movie is primarily made up of the younger male demographic, so Hollywood was just being Hollywood by marketing her character that way. It's an annoying aspect of the entertainment industry in general, but it is what it is. As I watched the movie however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that as the story progressed, Garona became more "clothed" if I could use that term. Her character wasn't just eye-candy. She got full-bodied armour, she fought viciously in battle, she integrated into a new society, and she dealt with several emotional storylines. The final act of the movie even hinted that she may have an even more important role to play should the series continue in the future. All in all, it was exceedingly refreshing to see an intelligent portrayal of a female character in a video game movie.
The sceneries and environment are expansive and breath-taking. It often feels surreal; like a painting brought to life. This feeling invades the whole look of the movie, where it may feel like you are in the middle of a Video Game rather than a traditional movie environment. Movies tend to always lean towards some sense realism, even when depicting Fantasy worlds. But Warcraft lets go of realism, and fully embraces the largeness of its universe. It could have easily been quite cheesy, but Duncan Jones handles it with such finesse that keeps it within a sense of wonderment, rather than incredulity.
All in all, Warcraft deals with the traditional notions of Light vs Darkness, Good vs Evil, Tradition vs New-Thinking. It also explores deeper themes of loyalty, friendship, bravery and finding one's place in the world. The film boasts fantastic special effects, and the motion capture work on the Orcs is remarkable. It breaks norms, in making the "ugly beasts" the main focus of the film, and gives its characters intelligent and compelling story arcs. So despite what the majority of film critics seem to think, the thing is, Warcraft is the best Video Game Movie thus far, at least in my opinion.