Warcraft: The Beginning – Review (here there be spoilers)

Hi all. Sorry I haven’t posted recently. I switched jobs in May, and because of ill health, it’s been hard for me to adjust to the new commute. However, I’m hoping to be able to publish more often now that things have settled a bit.

Yesterday I went to see the Warcraft movie, twice in fact. I will say right off that I loved it, and I will certainly be buying the DVD as soon as it comes out. That said, it wasn’t as good in some ways as I had hoped it would be. My issues follow:

The relationship among Medivh, Anduin, and Llane is core to the story – and yet, that relationship received almost no exposition in the movie. If you know the game lore, you know they grew up together and were best friends. If you read the supporting literature (graphic novel, novelization) you receive a lot of exposition. But there’s almost none in the movie. They refer to each other as “friends” but that’s not enough, and frankly, most of the viewing public isn’t going to understand why a king, a wizard, and a soldier (yes, Lothar is so much more, but that’s not explained either) would be close, never mind VERY close, friends. Likewise, if you haven’t read the supporting literature, the fact that Taria is Anduin’s sister comes out of left field. Again, the non-WoW-playing viewing public is going to be a bit staggered by the fact that a white-skinned, blue-eyed man has a dark-skinned, dark-eyed sister, even though that’s one of the things that’s so great about the game (i.e. the mix of what we think of as different races into one big whole). Giving some sort of support or exposition of everyone’s relationship to each other would have made the whole plot stronger. I think this is really my biggest complaint.

My second biggest issue is with Medivh himself, and again it’s a problem of lack of exposition. In the game lore, Medivh’s actions are explained by his “possession” by Sargeras, but in the movie, there’s no (apparent) concept of this possession; instead, the reason given is that his corruption began because he had previously begun studying fel magic so that he could combat Trolls who were also using it. However, this fact is not explained in the movie itself, but only in the supporting literature. In fact, you get the idea in the movie that fel magic is COMPLETELY UNKNOWN in Azeroth until Gul’Dan brings it in, except that oh wait, Medivh’s using it? Again, this just comes completely out of left field, and even if you’ve read the literature, you’re wondering where the Trolls got it. Now, I haven’t read the movie novelization yet (nor have I finished the Durotan novel), so maybe some of this is explained elsewhere, but even if so that doesn’t matter: a movie should be able to stand on its own, and this plot point does not.

I’m not even sure how I feel about the new Medivh explanation anyway. If there is no Sargeras, then is there a Burning Legion, or just random demons? If there is no Burning Legion, then how (why?) did Gul’Dan get his demonic power? Who is the demon that Medivh becomes, or is it just Medivh-as-demon? How did he “invite” the Orcs to Azeroth? Was all this going to be explained in a sequel? If so I really hope there IS a sequel, but with plot holes like this I’m a bit worried. The in-game lore was always a bit weird and convoluted, but I was used to it. Now I have no idea what’s going on, and apparently neither did Ben Foster, because his acting was uneven and just not really believable.

Unfortunately, I have to say that Dominic Cooper, possibly for similar reasons of not understanding his character’s motivation, did not do a great job with Llane (forevermore to be known to me as King Lame). The issue is most obvious just before Llane’s death, because nowhere in the movie has he shown himself to be a person capable of sacrificing himself for his kingdom. His command to Garona to kill him just comes out of nowhere, and the only thing that saves that scene is Paula Patton’s acting. As someone who cries at the drop of a hat, I should have been sobbing at that point, but I shed exactly one tear: movie fail.

Most of the special effects were great, but the wolves were awful and I’m very happy that they weren’t utilized very often. Most of the time, how bad they were wasn’t distracting, but the one scene where the wolf tries to attack Lothar was pretty awful; the wolf looked comical rather than frightening, which was very distracting.

The lack of blood, gore, and hacked limbs in the battle scenes made those scenes unbelievable. For instance, just before his death, Llane points out to Garona that they are surrounded, and there is a quick “air view” to illustrate that fact. The battle from that view looked like toy soldiers being blown around (which maybe is what it was?). We’ve come to expect much better from movie battle scenes. In addition, Draka’s agonized delivery of her son was rendered completely ridiculous by the fact that the baby comes out completely clean. I get that perhaps we don’t want to gross out the audience too much, but perhaps he could have at least been MOIST?

Garona was puzzling. In the original game lore she is represented as being half Orc and half Human, with this later being retconned to, or explained by, her actually being half Orc and half Draenei, the Dranei half being her mother, Maraad’s sister. In the movie, however, she indicates that she wears her mother’s tusk to remember her by, which would imply that her mother was an Orc (she also says her mother was burned for giving birth to her, which implies an Orc having done something unspeakable, such as willingly mate with a lesser creature rather than the forced mating of Orc male and Draenei female in the game lore). Yet she knows the Draenei language, which is notable, because Gul’Dan does not. She explains her knowledge of the Human language (which starts out as stilted and broken and then suddenly and for no apparent reason becomes utterly fluent) as being something that she learned from a Human prisoner brought through the portal, which makes pretty much no sense whatsoever, but no explanation is ever given for her knowledge of the Draenei language, unless it’s in parts of the supporting literature that I haven’t finished reading yet. Given that even the more recent lore explanation of her past had to be explained by “magical aging”, this new confusion just adds to the plot issues I’ve already mentioned.

Orgrim’s betrayal of his BFF Durotan is another important plot point that, once more, for lack of exposition, is a failure in terms of believability. While a plausible reason is eventually given, there is almost no leadup (one doubtful look is all we get) to his decision, so yet again I was caught off guard by something important to the plot. Kudos, though, for the agonized look that Durotan throws Llane in the same scene just before he turns to engage in the battle (and an unsurprising but unfortunate lack of apparent reaction on Llane’s part – the camera cuts to him but his reaction shot is completely inscrutable).

I think those are all my negative comments. Now for what I really loved:

Anduin Lothar was fantastic. Travis Fimmel acted the HELL out of that part; I would say it was the best performance in the movie, rivalled only by Toby Kebbell’s Durotan. (Since those are the two on the poster, I’d say it’s fitting that they were the best characters in the movie.) When Lothar pushes Garona away slightly to tell her he’s never been in so much pain, I shivered. That was just amazing.

You know what else was amazing? Khadgar. His character in general, and the interaction with Lothar were completely spot on. I could have watched an entire 2 hour movie filled with just Khadgar and Lothar, seriously. It’s kind of ironic because I was never all that crazy about either character in the game lore – well, until Warlords of Draenor, when Khadgar becomes amazing and snappy. In fact, it seems to me that the Khadgar we’re seeing in game right now is based on a man who learned some of his best sarcastic moves from his old friend Anduin Lothar, as portrayed in the movie.

Despite my saying that I could have watched a whole movie with just Khadgar and Lothar, I wish I’d seen more of Garona and Taria. I loved that they were both, in their own way, badass and yet vulnerable, and I would have loved to have seen more of that.

The “Orc CGI” was spot on. I kept forgetting that the Orcs weren’t real, which means the effect succeeded. Other than the issue mentioned above – which could have been something that was cut – I also felt that the Orc characters were very well acted. In addition, I was delighted to be able to recognize Kargath and Grommash, who looked recognizably like their Warlords of Draenor portrayals. In fact, other than the skin color, Grommash looked exactly like he does in the expansion cinematic.

I loved all the little Easter Eggs in the film, such as the murloc. MRGHGALLALLAGHAG! <3 But seriously, those little moments of humor really added to the film, and I’m glad they were there.

The spell effects were also spot on, I felt, with one possible exception: Medivh’s barrier during the “betrayal battle” was more reminiscent of elemental than arcane magic. However, I’m willing to believe that the Guardian would be capable of that kind of effect, so it didn’t upset me too much. The rest of the effects were great. And bonus points for the “ding animation” as Khadgar defeated the fel magic.

In summation, I loved the movie, even though it wasn’t perfect, and I hope that it did well enough that there can be a sequel. I’m eagerly anticipating the DVD release, and I hope that it’s a Director’s cut or that the deleted scenes, of which I suspect there are many, are included.

And it makes me even more excited about Legion!