I walked out of the theater last night after watching Warcraft with only one thought on my mind: “That was really good. Why did this get such horrible reviews?” With a current Metacritic rating of only 32, to say that film critics have not received Warcraft well would be an understatement. Ok, so movie critics are just categorically biased against video game movies. The fans will like it, right? While some did, much of the gaming media has jumped on the hate bandwagon as well. Seriously, were they in a different movie than I was?
Let me say up front that I don’t know Warcraft lore well. At all. I played Warcraft III a little, but mostly in multiplayer, and that was years ago. I have had a lot of friends who have played WoW off and on over the years, but if any of them were lore junkies, they didn’t talk about it to me much. As such, when Stormwind and Dalaran look too much like they do in the era of WoW and not how they should look at this point in history, I don’t know the difference. I’m not saying that my ignorance excuses the film makers’ ignorance (or worse, willful disregard for major details), I’m just saying that it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie the way it would if I were a Warcraft fan. If I were, I’m sure I would rage right along with them on those points.
That said, I really thought that this movie, in a vacuum, did a lot of things really well. The CGI, for example, was amazing. I went in expecting to hate the orcs–they look ok in the super-stylized fantasy world that Blizzard has created, but their exaggerated proportions and weird tusks can’t possibly make the jump to photorealism, right?–but they were so expressive, something that is usually lost with CGI-ified characters, that I forgot within the first ten minutes to try to look for places where they look fake. I would argue that Warcraft does realistic, expressive CGI characters better than Avatar did, and everyone raved about how great Avatar’s characters were (granted, Avatar was 7 years ago, but few movies have managed to top it). I simply never felt, as many have accused it, like it was a bunch of people prancing around in front of a greenscreen. Magic was also really well done, especially in 3D. Only in one scene, involving a giant wall of lightning, did I think the spell effects looked cheap, but other than that they did an excellent job with it.
Another criticism is that there isn’t any character development. That simply isn’t true. I can’t talk a lot about it without spoilers (maybe I’ll post some spoilery thoughts if people are interested, let me know in the comments), but I think a case could be made that several characters show as much development as any character in most other blockbuster movies. Again, I can’t speak to whether or not the characters develop in a way that is consistent with the games, but to say that there is no development is a gross exaggeration. Also, many people felt that the movie jerked you around a lot, trying to tell too many stories in too many different places at once, but I’m not sure how you could possibly tell the story of Warcraft without showing both sides equally as well as the strife within each faction’s own ranks.
The most ridiculous claim that I’ve seen is that it’s some kind of Lord of the Rings wannabe. This claim is simply laughable, and makes me wonder if these reviewers, first of all, have even read The Lord of the Rings books (or at least watched the movies), and second, if they actually watched Warcraft or just watched some clips and made assumptions. If Warcraft is a Lord of the Rings ripoff, then literally every fantasy story of the last fifty years is as well. Lord of the Rings has had incredibly far-reaching impact on the fantasy genre, to the point where many would say that Tolkien invented the modern Fantasy story. Yes, there are orcs fighting humans, with the occasional magic-user thrown in… but that’s literally where the similarities end.
Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t without its flaws. It skims over some of the details, like how exactly the Dark Portal and fel magic corruption work and how the various characters came to have access to them. What’s worse is that the Dark Portal was changed a lot for the movie, so it’s not like they’re skipping over details they figure the audience knows, it was just poorly thought out. Also, several of the main characters’ deaths are rather sudden and unceremonious, killing them and moving on before it has sunk in. And (I don’t think this a spoiler since it was in the trailer) the whole thing with Thrall being orc Moses was really weird. That said, I don’t think it was any more flawed than the vast majority of movies that get much better ratings than Warcraft.
So why all the hate? I know only a smattering of the lore from the Warcraft ‘verse, and my wife knows even less, and we both came out of the movie extremely satisfied with the story, production, and thoroughly confused about all of the hate it has been getting. What am I missing?