For as much as Hollywood loves projects based on other works of intellectual property, due to the already built-in audience, some of these adaptations take longer to get going than others. Warner Bros.’ Watchmen was in in the works for two decades before it finally hit theaters in 2009. For a time, it seemed like the iconic video game Warcraft would never happen, with Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created the video game franchise, first announcing the movie back in 2006. A decade later, this adaptation is finally here, and while the wait may have seemed grueling to fans, I can say with confidence that we could simply not see a movie of this size and scope 10 years ago.
Back in May 2014, Legendary‘s Thomas Tull teased that director Duncan Jones would spend nearly two years in post-production, which is astronomical even by today’s big-budget tentpole standards. Having seen this epic adventure in IMAX 3D (which I strongly suggest you do this weekend), it was certainly two years well spent, because I haven’t seen a movie this visually ambitious, possibly since the first Lord of the Rings trilogy. It isn’t just the massive size of these Orcs, or their intense battle sequences with the humans of the Alliance, it’s the entire world he creates, with epic sweeping landscapes that are captured and fine-tuned so brilliantly.
Admittedly, I have never played any of the Warcraft video games, but after being transported into this world for 123 minutes, I can honestly see why fans are so fascinated with this battle between the Horde and the Alliance. I read somewhere that, when Duncan Jones took over as co-writer (with Charles Leavitt) and director, the story was heavily imbalanced towards the Alliance, with the director re-working the script to showcase both perspectives. We see both the heroic and villainous shades to both the Horde and the Alliance. It’s not nearly your clear-cut case of “good vs. evil.” a move which certainly paid off in some respects, in that you the viewer can basically choose who to root for. Then again, it’s one of the movie’s failings as well.
Still, Warcraft is not without it’s flaws, which are largely due to a few bizarre story choices, which are too spoiler-y to reveal, but I will say this. In a few places, Warcraft feels like a super big-budget, two-hour TV pilot. It’s not just that they set up the movie for a sequel, which practically every movie that costs more than $100 million does anyway, but it’s done in such a cocksure way that’s kind of baffling. Could a Warcraft sequel happen? Sure, absolutely, especially since it’s projected to open huge at the box office in China, despite poor early reviews. It’s worth noting that Universal or Legendary haven’t announced any sort of sequel yet, and I would actually like to see one. But, the way that certain plot points are simply teased rather than resolved lends itself much more towards TV storytelling than film.
As for the acting, I was rather indifferent towards most of these performances. Almost the entire cast was serviceable, but not outstanding, with the exception of two roles. For me, the two stand-outs were Toby Kebbell as Durotan and Ben Schnetzer as the mage-to-be Khadgar. If Andy Serkis is the Michael Jordan of motion-capture work, then Toby Kebbell is quickly becoming the LeBron James of mo-cap. After turning in a stunning performance in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the treacherous Koba, Kebbell brings the sympathetic Orc Durotan to life in brilliant and fascinating ways. Durotan has, for my money, the most interesting character arc in the whole film, with Kebbell straight knocking it out of the park, to mix sports metaphors, as this Orc who questions the practices of their leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). As for Ben Schnetzer’s Khadgar, a former “Guardian” (a.k.a. mage/magical specialist) like Medivh (Ben Foster) who left after his training was complete, he’s often the butt of a few jokes in this movie, but his journey is quite rich and compelling. He reminded me a lot of Daniel Portman’s work as Podrick on Game of Thrones, only a magical Podrick who is given much more to do. Also, be on the lookout for quite an awesome and surprising cameo towards the end of the movie.
Director Duncan Jones shows why he could be one of our best filmmakers working today, even after making just three films (Moon and Source Code). The vision required for a movie this massive is almost unfathomable to me, but he brings us into this world with a bold and unflinching resolve that is highlighted even more in IMAX 3D. Over the past few years, 3D has lost its shine, but this might be the best 3D movie I’ve seen since Avatar, free from the gimmicky bulls–t many studios have tried to cram down our throats. Like James Cameron, Duncan Jones doesn’t use 3D to show things coming at you, or to make you jump in your seat, but to bring you into this world he has created in an immersive way. There is a lot that could have gone so wrong, so easily with Warcraft, but it holds up as an incredible visual spectacle that brings a beloved fantasy world to life. Despite its flaws, if you see Warcraft in IMAX 3D, it will be a visual experience that you won’t soon forget.