Editorial: The Warcraft film is absolutely awful
A film does not have to be good to be entertaining. I hold that as a pretty firm truth. Snakes on a Plane, for example, is not a good film; it has an absurd plot, ridiculous solutions to problems, terrible dialogue, and one scene very clearly shot after the rest of the film simply to insert the Internet's favorite fictitious line into the movie. But it was a very entertaining film, and thus exactly what it set out to be. There is room in this world for a Warcraft film that is entertaining without being good.
This is not that movie. This movie is trash.
At no point during the entire two hours of this film's running time did I ever find myself approaching "entertained" by anything other than the sheer, mind-wasting awfulness of the film. It commits every single storytelling sin you can think of and more besides; it's neither shot nor scored well; it's filled with bad acting and awful dialogue that is not helped by fake accents which careen all over the map. It also fails as fanservice, with an attention to pointless and incorrect details in some places while completely ignoring details elsewhere.
Let's just walk through this. Warning, there are spoilers if you have somehow missed the last few dozen times this story has been told in various formats. Not that you should care anyhow, since you shouldn't go to see it.
The first scene, unfortunately, sets the tone. A narration explains that orcs and humans have been at war longer than anyone can remember, then immediately says that this wasn't always the case. It's accompanied by a very obviously CGI orc menacing a human who is very clearly pacing in front of a greenscreen with a level of conviction that makes The Phantom Menace look realistic. Then again, The Phantom Menace actually made an effort to give its characters weight and mass and movements that looked somewhat organic.
If you think I'm nitpicking here, that's fair, but it's also kind of important. This is the moment that sets the tone of the rest of the film, clearly trying its best to set things up a la the single-player Warcraft cinematics. Go ahead and watch Warcraft III's intro movie; that sets the tone right away. Sure, the CGI isn't great (because it was made years ago), but you get a sense of these two opposing forces, a sense of the conflict, a vague shape of what's going on. It feels convincing. Why in the world the whole film wasn't made in CGI is a mystery to me; the greenscreen effects in the film are horribly jarring and give it an oddly surreal and floaty quality.
The next scene is probably the one good scene in the whole film, with Durotan and Draka talking about their kid and going through the Dark Portal. Except it's not the Dark Portal; it's some sort of proto-Dark Portal. Apparently, the portal needs lives to fuel it, so the orcs are going to send some people through, grab some humans, and re-open the portal from the other end. Except that it's also tied into Medivh's whole "being evil" thing, but then... you know what? Let's just say that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense however you push it.
You'll also note if you're familiar with the series lore that this isn't how things originally were. This is a running theme in the film, wherein the lore is changed from the source material in a way that makes less sense than the original; it'll come up again many times.
Anyway, the orcs march through, Draka starts giving birth, and then Gul'dan delivers the kid in what is both the shortest and cleanest labor in the history of childbirth. The child is stillborn, he leeches the energy of a nearby deer and gives it to little Thrall, baby turns green and lives, title screen comes up.
We then jump promptly to Stormwind, which has been recreated in loving detail... from World of Warcraft. And here is where I have to start ranting because Stormwind in World of Warcraft is the city after it was rebuilt following this exact war. Stormwind was razed. That's, like, a major plot point. This is half of what bothers me intensely about this movie's approach toward fans, that it paid so much attention to the wrong details. The cityscape that we see for Stormwind is a very solid recreation of what the kingdom looks like in World of Warcraft, with a great deal of attention to detail, and it's all details that don't match the time period. It would be like very carefully making sure that everyone was using appropriate 1990s-era personal computers in a movie set right after World War II.
Here, then, is part of what bothers me about saying the movie is "for the fans." The fans are the people who will notice this is wrong. It's like having Captain Picard running around in the background of the Star Trek reboot films; fans will be wondering why the heck he's there, and non-fans will just be wondering who the bald dude is.
Right, we were in Stormwind. Anduin Lothar is inspecting the bodies of people killed in an attack, then he catches a mage of the Kirin Tor sniffing around. It's Khadgar, of course, because why wouldn't it be? Apparently this is a big problem for some reasons never adequately explained in the film. Khadgar pokes at a body that's filled with fel energy, he realizes that they need to go see Medivh, King Wrynn acquiesces and sends them off to talk with Medivh. We also see Lothar's kid, who interacts with his father exactly twice but is supposedly very important to his dad. We know this because Lothar tells us that several times.
Note that in neither of the scenes of Lothar interacting with his son do we get any sense of who these people are. There are no good-natured jokes, no sign of strain, no discussion, nothing that would smack even slightly of human interaction. No one in the film manages to reach beyond the status of being a one-dimensional character.
Anyway, so we fly to Karazhan on the back of a gryphon (which is another historical bit of weirdness, since gryphons come from the Wildhammers and only entered Alliance use in the Second War), at which point we're faced with a Karazhan that looks nothing like Karazhan does. At which point I'm running into my second major complaint about the fanservice: The film doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind about fidelity. You recreate Stormwind down to the smallest details for the wrong era, but you can't be bothered to recreate Karazhan? Whether or not you liked the Watchmen film adaptation, at least it didn't spend its time recreating shots from the comic only to randomly have everyone refer to the glowing blue dude as Doctor Brooklyn.
Medivh talks with Khadgar and Lothar, Khadgar steals a book, then everyone decides to teleport back to Stormwind because mages can teleport, you guys. People choose random methods of transport in this movie all the time; one minute people fly, then they ride on horses, then they teleport, then we're back to horses, and so forth. The merry band heads off into the woods to investigate an orc attack before themselves being attacked by orcs, which seems like a slightly absurd ambush, but what do I know?
What follows is the first real fight scene in the film, and... boy, there are a lot of problems going on here. For one thing, there's the simple problem that nothing feels as if it has any mass. Orcs and humans both bounce around and move like this was a Merrie Melodies bit rather than what's supposed to be a serious fantasy film. The line between humans and CGI is also pretty clear; you can just track everyone's expression and know that the actors are hoping that the animation lines up with what they're actually doing when the scene is actually pasted together later.
There are also characters randomly able to stand around in the midst of a raging battle doing nothing without anyone so much as nudging a spear in their general directions, along with both of the mages in the cast having a strong knowledge of Plot Magic. Plot Magic ends this particular fight by killing all of the orcs invested with fel energies because that's how the plot says this battle ends.
The humans take two prisoners, Garona and some other orc dude, but the orc dude throws a fit and then Lothar kills him. Back at the O.K Corral, Garona reveals that she's learned the humans' language because otherwise the movie ends pretty quickly. She also reveals that she is hated by other orcs because she's a half-breed, which means that of course the orcs would bring her through the Dark Portal on an important mission because that's logical. Sure, in the original lore she was Gul'dan's personal assassin, a secret infiltrator who faced a great deal of personal conflict when she was ordered to kill the only people in her life who actually treated her well, but it makes much more sense if she has every reason to hate the orcs and no reason whatsoever to like or trust them, right?
Our lone bright point is that at least now all of the major characters have been introduced, complete with their total lack of any personal traits or goals or motivations. No one in this movie seems to want anything beyond the most vague directives, the sort of thing that literally anyone would want. Khadgar is motivated by a desire to not have his entire world overrun with horrible demons, which says pretty much nothing about him beyond the fact that he likes to not be killed by orcs. There are no character arcs, no development, no sense of people doing things for reasons but just because the plot says that they do these things now.
Case in point, Medivh finds out that Khadgar was researching the portal thing, and so he destroys all of Khadgar's notes on the topic. That seems suspicious, right? So Khadgar goes to talk with Lothar about what just happened, and Lothar just says, "Eh, probably no big deal." Yet not five minutes later, Lothar is saying that Medivh isn't reliably present and is acting odd. So why didn't he believe Khadgar? Because the plot says he doesn't believe Khadgar yet. There's no scene in which he comes to realize he was wrong or experiences growth or changes things, he just flops to a new position when the plot requires it.
Farting right along and skipping ahead very slightly, a big dramatic meeting between Durotan and Wrynn takes place in a canyon, with Durotan deciding that the fel is definitely bad and now he wants to help the humans stop the Dark Portal from opening. So he's perfectly all right with stranding the remainder of the orcs - the people he claims that he wants to save - back on a world he admits is dying, leaving the surviving population as nothing but the fel-infested orcs who he outright says aren't going to live peacefully with humans. He offers to help the king rescue people that he eventually plans to murder, and Wrynn says yes because the plot demands that he say yes now. Then the orcish horde ambushes them all because Doomhammer sold Durotan out, only before he agreed with Durotan, so who even knows what he wants.
A battle ensues, Lothar's kid dies for kind of stupid reasons, and Khadgar and Garona rush Medivh back to Karazhan where he goes for a dip in a revitalizing bath full of minerals and scented oils. Or mana, one or the other. Khadgar sees Medivh's eyes flash with fel energy and decides to bugger off to Dalaran, which is floating for some reason, even though - again - Dalaran wouldn't be floating at this point. As before, this bothers me because it's a lot of attention to details while overlooking huge important points.
Pointless things take place in Dalaran, including an uncredited Glenn Close appearance that makes me wonder if she really wanted a trip to Vancouver for free. Seriously, it's exposition for details that the audience already knows. It also makes no reference to Medivh being possessed specifically by Sargeras, which is sort of the driving force behind the plot. So now the movie is expecting fans to know the plot while failing to explain it to non-fans. I think the stated explanation was that Medivh wanted to protect Azeroth so much that he was possessed by a demon, but that's not even the most nonsensical explanation I've gotten thus far in the film, so I'll let it go.
Also, Lothar and Garona hook up now in a scene with all of the dynamic chemistry of sand mixing with water. I hold none of this against the actors portraying these characters, mind you; Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton are both among the cast members working hard to put genuine emotion and human responses into their performances. This is some Attack of the Clones nonsense right here, two capable performers creating an awkward romance scene because it's shoehorned in and doesn't have the script to support it.
Back in Orclandia, the Frostwolves are all killed, baby Thrall gets sent down the river just to get that religious reference in, and Durotan challenges Gul'dan to a trial by combat. Gul'dan then sloughs off his robes to reveal that he is absolutely ripped, and I could not decide at that moment whether that should be accompanied by the "Kylo Ren has an eight-pack" joke from SNL or just this music.
Seriously, at this point the film has reached maximum ridiculousness. But it never acknowledges this fact. It's not willing to wink at the audience or admit that this is silly or anything of the sort. Gul'dan beats Durotan by draining his life, which upsets the orcs, but then he just drains the life of a few more and they all shut up, which means that Durotan accomplished absolutely nothing in the plot. We're told he was a great leader, but he didn't lead anyone to do anything and his death accomplishes nothing aside from his being dead.
Lothar is imprisoned because he tells Wrynn not to trust Medivh, but Khadgar breaks him out by polymorphing the guard. This part, I will happily say, was a genuinely cute moment and a nice nod to the fans, right down to Khadgar mentioning that it only lasts for a minute. I've got nothing snarky to say about it; much like the opening scene with Durotan and Draka, it seems like one of the few bright sparks in an otherwise awful movie.
The Stormwind army attacks the orcs, shooting at them with guns while running toward the orcs armed with axes. I always thought that the military application of ranged weapons involved using the "ranged" aspect, but let's rush into melee combat anyhow. In Karazhan, Lothar and Khadgar engage in slapstick combat against Medivh as he starts opening the Dark Portal. Two long and unengaging battles ensue, and Medivh winds up dying on the floor and changing the Dark Portal's destination to Stormwind rather than Draenor so that Stormwind's people can be rescued.
Note that for all the talk of Gul'dan needing souls to fuel the portals, both portals open fine with minimum of any such souls, almost entirely due to Medivh. Have I already mentioned that? It's still worth noting.
Then, because the plot demands it, Garona kills Wrynn because the portal collapsed and that'll make her a hero among orcs or something. It's very much an eleventh-hour "twist" that's mostly in there because it's already butchered Garona's character arc and the plot says she kills the king. Lothar tries to fly in to save the king but fails, and the orcs capture him and subject him to the same honorable duel as Durotan and Gul'dan had because...
Well, that part isn't clear. Why, exactly, would they capture him and just fight him? Who knows? It's never explained, it never makes sense, it doesn't seem reasonable. He's not an orc and they don't respect him; it gains Blackhand nothing to kill him this way instead of any other. It's a dramatic battle at the end because there needs to be a dramatic battle. Only it's not a dramatic battle; we just stare at Lothar's face until it becomes uncomfortable, then he ends the fight in two swings.
The film ends with Lothar giving a speech and proudly proclaiming "For the Alliance" despite the fact that, again, the Alliance does not exist at this point. We also see someone finding little baby Thrall, and possibly with enough eye-rolling to detach retinas.
So many parts of this movie do not work. The plot is full of things happening without any sort of character motivation or driving compulsion just because the script demands it. It spends a great deal of time recreating details from World of Warcraft that shouldn't apply to this period in Azeroth's history, then it ignores details when it decides those details aren't relevant. The film even goes out of its way in many places to avoid having real actors interacting with the CGI characters, thus creating the sense of two separate movies being spliced together.
People have claimed that this is a movie "for the fans." I've been playing Warcraft games since Warcraft II was first released; I got a demo for the game, played it until the CD that contained it died from overuse, bought the game as soon as I could, and threw myself into it with a fervor. Warcraft III defined a good chunk of my college time, a game that my roommate and I bonded over, that left me sitting and playing and smiling during many a warm fall evening. I have strong feelings about Kul Tiras; almost no one even seems to remember that Kul Tiras exists.
Do not go to see the film because you're a fan of the franchise. Do not go to see it because you think it'll be a fun lark to see a bad movie, which I mistakenly considered as my worst-case scenario. Do not go see it because you think it'll be a lark to see if it's as bad as it could be. It is, in fact, crap. It's not "bad but entertaining"; it's bad period. If you want to see a film that's entertainingly bad, you have numerous options; this is not among them.
This film's problem is not that it's not for critics but that it is just plain bad. It's an awful film, it deserves every awful review, and it is not worth your time. Save your money and read a book.