KittyKarate reviews an Unimpressively Multi-Audienced In-Cinema Screen-Watching Film.
At its peak in 2010, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (or ‘MMORPG’) World of Warcraft had over 12 million subscribers, and it must at the time have seemed like a safe bet to make a film based on a MMORPG franchise with such a large and active fan base.
When the movie was first announced in 2009 Sam Raimi was supposedly attached, but then it all went very quiet until Duncan Jones was announced as director in 2013. During this time, however, World of Warcraft’s player numbers had slumped, reaching a low of 5.5 million in Q3 2015 (the last time Blizzard, its publisher, released figures). And Jones was a surprising choice, as while he has made interesting science-fiction films in Moon and Source Code, they were both sparsely-plotted films with relatively small casts and no fully CGI characters.
Nevertheless, the film got made, and it’s in the cinemas now.
The marketing department has struggled with how to treat Warcraft, partly due to the different ways you can play the game. Obviously they had the no-brainer option of putting the slave–girl in the fur bikini rather than full armour in the posters, but what to do about the trailers? Make the music ponderous in the style of a Middle-Earth epic to appeal to the general fantasy fans and lentil-weaving Player vs Environment types, or appeal to the young at heart and “teabagging your enemies’ corpses” Player vs Player fans by using the Prodigy?
(Editor’s note: as a family publication, we cannot define ‘teabagging’ here.)
Similarly, should the film be aimed at someone familiar with Warcraft or someone new to its world? Explaining situations where dwarves and elves show up to war council meetings but we don’t have any clue why they were there (apart from to complain that humans don’t respect them) seems like a hard sell.
We should take a moment to explain how these sort of games work. MMORPGs rely on both ‘sides’ being equally playable, and no races (Humans, Dwarves, Orcs etc) or classes (Druid, Hunter, Mage etc) being imbalanced. While some ‘sides’ can be a little edgy, in general they are no more alarming than a middle class kid wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette. Everyone seeks items for their craft, and works on improving their skills in mundane tasks such as cooking, fishing and sewing. At the end of it you have virtually identical character classes but with different outward appearances, fighting over areas of territory like squabbling gangs. It would be difficult to have a truly evil race as a playable class, as how many people would want to spend their days eating babies and raping to gather materials to fuel their next quests? The way round this is to have one (or two) really bad guys who can mislead basically noble creatures into doing bad things, and the film sensibly sticks to that template.
<GRAVELLY TRAILER VOICOVER>
The Orcs are abandoning Draenor as it is dying, changing from having rich hunting grounds to harsh desolation. They are being led by a fearsome Orc sorcerer Gul’dan who is using ‘fel’ magic to power the opening of the portal to Azeroth to allow them to conquer and settle a new realm.
<END GRAVELLY VOICEOVER>
Warcraft lacks star–power: while most of the human cast are recognisable, it’s at the “Isn’t that whathisface from Battlestar Galactica?”/“Doesn’t he normally play the weaselly second–in–command?” level. Paula Patton does well to deliver her lines despite her frankly ludicrous mini-tusks that look like they have been purchased at a joke shop, but Travis Fimmel lacks the charisma required of Lothar, with his moments of sadness and introspection looking closer to confusion. In addition, Lady Taria is described as the love of King Llane’s life, but until we see they have children it’s hard to believe that they’ve previously done more than send each other a polite note.
There are lots of moments to delight people familiar with the World of Warcraft universe. As an Alliance player I got chills when I saw the central square of Stormwind and the Kirin Tor, and I’m sure there were equally resonant locations for Horde players. I thought the spell-casting effects for Khadgar were great, and he uses many of the spells familiar to those who played the mage class. But what would any of this mean to a person coming to the story cold?
While Warcraft is by no means a terrible film, there’s a real risk that newbies (and even casual fans) won’t find enough to connect with here, and that as the story ends after setting up the action for a sequel or two, the film just won’t make enough money at the box office to allow it to become a successful franchise.
Kittykarate is a reformed affliction warlock who used to play in the casual/PvE guild ‘Argent Dawn Exiles’. Warcraft is on general release now.