It’s taken me a long time to figuratively put pen to page and find the right words to describe my thoughts on Duncan Jones’ Warcraft adaptation. When it began its run in theaters, I – like many others – quickly dismissed the film as another ill-fated and failed video game adaptation and/or soulless CGI-fest. Despite this, I had a persistent curiosity towards it. Fueling this curiosity, first and foremost, was the man in the director’s seat as well as writer’s chair, Duncan Jones. Jones has found acclaim through his films Moon and Source Code – both of which have proven to be prime examples of the cerebral, thought-provoking science and speculative fiction stories that countless genre fans have been craving. Jones had earned my respect (not that he was looking for it) as a story-teller and director and at the very least I felt I could give his foray into epic fantasy/video game adaptation a shot.
After having watched the movie, I quickly came to the realization that Warcraft has surprisingly more depth than nearly everyone has given it credit for. When Duncan Jones came on to the project, he made a point to stir the direction away from a story of heroic men taking on hordes of villainous, brutish orcs. What he instead crafted was a story of flaws, ambiguity, regret, and ultimately tragedy on both sides of a war that our primary protagonists do not want to be a part of.
“…my sort of spin on it, which I think was much more in keeping with the game, was that the bad guys, or the creatures rather, had heroes on their side, too,” Jones explains in an interview with Tech Insider. “So [the concepts of] good guys and bad guys [were] more a matter of the characters which made bad choices as opposed to monsters being bad, humans being good.”
As with a lot of epic fantasy, the audience tends to relate most with the human (or human-like) characters; the creatures of myth, legend, or the mind of the creator, tend to be relegated to side characters or depicted as villains or brutes. In Warcraft, however, this notion is flipped on its head. The orc characters (Durotan, his wife Draka and close friend, Orgrim) come off as some of the most interesting, and arguably the most emotionally relatable. It is through these characters – their hesitations, allegiances, and friendships – that we see the majority of the moral complexity and nuance play out through the story. Further, the human/orc hybrid character, Garona, adds an interesting layer as she wrestles with her true nature among the warring races. From my perspective as a viewer, the human characters arguably carried the least emotional weight to the story.
The visuals depicting the land of Azeroth were thoroughly impressive and the glimpses we got of the Council of Tirisfal (as an aside, Ben Foster’s Guardian of Tririsfal was definitely a bright spot among the human characters, and the depiction of magic was definitely unique and interesting) were definitely cool, however, an area in which Warcraft could have seen some improvement is in the realm of world-building. As a fan of the fantasy genre, expansive world-building is a primary draw to many of the stories I seek out, and in this regard, Warcraft left me wanting. Aside from a few scenes in which Travis Fimmel’s Lothar interacts with some Dwarves and the few meetings of the Alliance (a seemingly cooperative governing body comprised of representatives from all the lands of Azeroth – think, United Nations), it would be easy to mistake Azeroth as simply a land of humans.
Much of the blame, I believe, for the lack of world-building is due to the expectation of a sequel, or the anticipation that Warcraft (also known as Warcraft: The Beginning) would serve as a franchise starter. Because of this, the film often comes off across as a story not entirely told and a world not fully explored. Due to poor critical reception and poor overall box office performance, a sequel at this point is fairly unlikely (to the dismay of those of us who would like to see more).
Ultimately, what Warcraft delivers is a tragedy on more levels than one. As the aforementioned problems have illustrated, it is indeed flawed, yet it is also an ambitions and hopeful film. Within the story itself, nearly every character faces personal tragedy – many making the ultimate sacrifice for what they hope to achieve or facing a resolution that is truly unfavorable to all involved. Warcraft makes a point to illustrate that there are varying degrees of winners and losers within the larger winning and losing sides, while showing us the costs of pride and seemingly endless war. Sadly, the depth of Duncan Jones’ Warcraft has been egregiously understated and overlooked, and the film did not find favor among moviegoers and critics. As for me, I’m glad that I gave it a shot and found a movie that is much more than a failed video game adaptation and/or soulless CGI-fest.