Orcs and wizards are ten-a-penny in the realms of fantasy, and few are all that interesting. They have plagued literature with their simplicity. Modern realms of magic and gathering are as ridiculously unaware of how cliché and cheesy they are that it is hard to take many of them seriously. Warcraft has the benefit of being based upon the rich lore of World of Warcraft, a popular MMO whose best-known moments are the shoddy, shady dealings of Blizzard and a man who yelled his character names so loudly he became a pre-culture boom internet meme. Perfect for the big screen, of course. Now that CGI has advanced to the point of bringing sexualised orcs and grey armour to the screen, why stop?
That is the issue inherent to Warcraft and director Duncan Jones struggle with. They do not know when to stop. Encouraged by such rich lore and engaging subtext, one that has run deep and long for over a decade, he tries to cram as much as he can into the feature. Doing so leads to disaster. While Warcraft does have its moments, they are few and far between. Our introduction to these orcs as individuals doesn’t quite work when moments later one wizard fellow is eating the souls of the damned to open a snot-green portal. Take a little, give a lot is very much the mentality Jones and his cast have taken here.
What we are given is the occasional scene that looks competent. Jones’ direction leaves much to be desired, but at least there are those flashes of the strong gameplay uber-fans will no doubt be clamouring for. Inevitably, the issue is more between the blend of newcomer and veteran of the lore. Old school fans of the game will be at a loss because there is little here that represents the freedom of the massively popular game, while newcomers will be put off by the deluge of jargon. Wizards and dwarves show up with little understanding of why they are working hand in hand with humans, other than to fend off the threat of someone worse. Dominic Cooper shows up as Llane Wyrnn, and we know we are watching a fantasy film when we struggle to pronounce the name of a supporting character. It may as well be a Joe Abercrombie novel, but Warcraft has a drop more subtlety.
Warcraft opens simply enough. An orc smashes a human’s head in with a big hammer. Had the film been just that for two hours, perhaps they’d have been onto something. Fights and festivities founded on the core of the gameplay Blizzard offered would be all well and good if that is, indeed, what the gameplay was. But it’s not. It’s a bunch of poorly-detailed men and women dithering about dungeons, pillaging and stabbing whoever tries to take away their enchanted bows. That is inherent to the Warcraft disaster, but it is not interesting. We cannot care for these characters because they are replications of fantasy tropes. The orcs must “respect the old ways,” but what exactly they are is unclear and never explained. Nothing is explained here, for the revision needed to know what these characters are fighting over is the equivalent of a thesaurus of knowledge. No movie is worth that much reading up on. Not even the one based on a game from the mid-2000s. Get a Runescape adaptation on the go, then we’ll have the audience hooked.