Sometimes it can be a lot of fun watching a bad movie. I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching awful movies like Battlefield Earth, Howard the Duck, Plan 9 from Outer Space, or The Room. The best bad movies are often a work of passion by the filmmakers, whose vision may be horribly misguided but who are fully committed to the dumpster fire they’ve created. The result is often unintended hilarity, and even in some cases a sense of admiration for those who dedicated themselves to such a glorious trainwreck. A bad movie can find a life for itself so long as it’s memorable, but what it can’t afford to be is derivative, bland, uninspired, phoned-in, and boring. Warcraft is all of these things, not just awful but utterly forgettable.
Warcraft tells the story of a great confrontation between orcs and humans in the land of Azeroth. The orcs, having decimated their world through the use of “fel magic” which requires sucking lives to gather power, open a portal to Azeroth and send through a scouting party to take more captives to be drained for magic so that the rest of the horde can be brought through. Among the group are Durotan, a clan chieftain, and his pregnant wife, who immediately gives birth upon arriving in this new, lush world. The orcs begin raiding villages and capturing humans, until the king and his advisors are alerted to the threat. A runaway mage has investigated the bodies of the dead, and suspects that fel magic is behind these attacks, so the king sends him to consult with the legendary Guardian, a powerful wizard who protects the land. Durotan, meanwhile, is starting to have cold feet, fearing that Azeroth will suffer the same fate as the orc’s world thanks to the fel, and hoping for a better life for his new son. He seeks out an alliance with the king to join forces in order to stop the orc’s warlock from opening a portal and bringing all of the orcs through.
There’s more going on in Warcraft, including a half-orc woman who is rescued/captured by the humans, an orc/human love story, shifting allegiances and traitors, and mysterious shadows. The problem is that nothing that happens in Warcraft ever feels like it matters. Even a third act “surprise” reveal, that the true villain behind the dark happenings is not who we think, earns little more than a sigh and an eye roll. Warcraft is like fantasy soup, throwing every possible trope from any movie, game, show, or book you’ve ever read into the mix: orcs, humans, wizards, dwarves, elves, griffons, runes, portals, etc. But with all of that in the mix, it is never even remotely compelling or interesting. It’s filled with one-dimensional characters with easily-forgotten names, dull locations either indistinguishable from each other or blatantly ripped out of Tolkein, and no driving force whatsoever behind the narrative. Characters act only because the story requires them to act, with only the shallowest possible motivations or more frequently none at all. The film is filled with references to names, titles, places, and events that have no meaning to the audience and are never properly explained, which I can only assume come from the world of the video games upon which Warcraft is based.
Being uninspired and derivative can be forgivable if a film is fun or exciting, but Warcraft fails on those counts as well. It’s hard to make action compelling when we don’t care about the characters involved, but it’s like Warcraft didn’t even bother to try. The massive battle at the film’s climax is not only boring from a story standpoint but visually uninteresting, but the one-on-one battles scattered throughout the film are no better. There’s no humor in the film, but also no drama, which is especially shocking given how seriously it takes itself. And even the special effects, from the massive orcs to the landscapes, the magic, and the creatures, feel muted and old. Most of the cast seem like they don’t want to be there, especially Ben Foster as the Guardian, who mumbles through his scenes without any change in expression. Dominic Cooper is similarly monotone as the king, while Travis Fimmel gives slightly more energy as a human military leader. Only Ben Schnetzer makes any impression as all as the exiled mage, but he can’t rise above such a flat script. Schnetzer was fantastic in Pride and memorable in The Book Thief, and I’d like to see what he could do with a similarly big-budget role in a much better film.
As a life-long gamer, who played many of the early Warcraft games back in the day, it pains me that Hollywood still hasn’t figured out how to make a genuinely good video game adaptation. And this is coming from someone who genuinely loves the Super Mario Bros. for its surrealist nightmare design, its unique and impressive sets, and its complete disregard for the mythology and style of the games. The best video game adaptations have only managed to be passable action films like Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, or even Mortal Kombat. On the other hand, Warcraft seems destined to go down as one of the worst alongside Prince of Persia or Doom. Perhaps the biggest shame is that Warcraft was written and directed Duncan Jones, who brought us the masterfully intimate and creative Moon. It’s hard to believe that the man who made that film could make something as flat-out boring as this. Warcraft has nothing to make me recommend it as a film, it’s not even interesting enough to mock as you watch. It’s not offensively bad, just utterly pointless.