Screenplay by Duncan Jones and Charles Leavitt, with story and characters by Christ Metzen
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ruth Negga and more
Grade: Three stars (Four stars for game fans)
Good video game movies really do exist.
“Warcraft,” the new movie based on the immensely popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game, is a surprisingly satisfying experience for both game fans and non-game fans alike. Those familiar with the game will love that it’s actually mostly faithful to the game’s storyline (which is insanely rare when it comes to most adaptations), while those new to “Warcraft” will appreciate well-done high fantasy of the sort that rarely gets told these days outside of books and certain HBO shows.
As is the case with most high fantasy books, the story follows two separate species and several different characters who all have to come together to stop something terrible from happening. Part of this involves the orcs invading from their dead world to a nice healthy planet with humans and several other species, thanks to a healthy amount of dark magic (remember, neon yellow-green is the color of evil), which starts a war when they move out the planet’s original residents using murder.
But like any good high fantasy, there’s also cultural issues, unrest brewing in various ranks, and magical secrets and secret societies. I won’t go into all the details – for spoilers, if nothing else – but it’s definitely good for anyone who likes world-building, cultural details, and historical perspectives in their fantasy. There’s also a light sprinkling of well-timed humor, which is always welcome, and some very nice special effects (my favorite is the way they showed the “good” magic. My fantasy geek heart seriously nerded out over it). Yes, the characters are a little thin, but that’s also been true of every high fantasy book I’ve ever read.
A dedicated “Warcraft” gamer who watched the movie with me said that it held to about 90 percent of the original storyline, though as always some plotlines have to be tweaked when transferring to a new medium. There are also a lot of smaller Easter eggs for game fans, with a lot of significant names sprinkled throughout.
One area in which viewers not familiar with the games may have trouble with is the ending. Those who have been following the games know that this “Warcraft” is essentially a prequel to a much larger story that comes later, and that characters who are mostly just name-checked here end up growing into major players with world-changing power. Like any good prequel, the movie offers a fascinating look at the way history was shaped.
If you don’t know that “Warcraft” is secretly a prequel, however, the ending feels very open-ended and unfinished. This is really a prologue to a larger story, and while the ending reflects that those looking for a neat and tidy ending might feel cheated.
One “story,” unfortunately, both game and non-game fans will wrinkle their noses at. For some reason, a brief, incredibly poorly-timed romance was shoehorned in between two main characters, and it never works even for a moment. It makes no sense, wasn’t necessary, and in some ways was flat-out inappropriate, but the moments are thankfully brief and don’t end up infecting too much of the story.
In the end, though, it’s a minor quibble in what ends up being a surprisingly satisfying ending. Whether or not the characters end up saving the world, “Warcraft” may end up saving video game movies.