Warcraft comes to our cinema screens and, if Hollywood trends of past have taught us anything, this film is the first in a sure surge of video game films. The blockbuster live-action game film. Yet to be accomplished successfully. No pressure then.
To be fair Warcraft wasn’t a game franchise I really got into, and as such most of my interpretations of the film will be based on plot rather than how accurately Duncan Jones and the film played to the look and feel of the game with easter eggs and the likes.
Having that said, let’s get straight to it.
The first scene brings us to the world of the Orcs, where Durotan stares with love and concern over his pregnant wife. Awake, she tells him of a dream in snow, where the name of her unborn son came to her. It is a short, hell, passionate scene that serves one purpose, to humanise the Orcs. In the game, they were pretty much the enemy to be cut down, but Duncan Jones and the team readily know while that mindset may be good for the mechanics of an MMORPG, when it comes to film, stratified levels of emotions and political complexities make for great conflict and narrative.
And as far as the Orcs go, those who are ‘good’ are easy to spot… a complexion next to nude, more ‘human’ features and tend to speak more eloquently in English. Which is one thing that perplexed my re: Language. There were moments where there was need for translation between Orc and Human, but conversations between Orcs themselves were in English. Obviously for our benefit. No one wants to sit through a screening listening to a whole made up language. But in essence, the care that, say, Avatar took in the use of language does not seem to have been applied here.
It is however, as the film progresses we see the dire situation that threatens the Orcs existence and the savagery they adopt to survive. Their world is dying, and Gul’dan, a powerful wizard who leads all the clans, seeks to open a portal to bridge the gap to a world where food and land is plentiful, wielding the magical powers of ‘The Fel’. The magic’s all green. And that’s bad. Super bad.
As the fell powers hinges on drawing the very life-force and spirit from the living. The very portal Gul’dan opens with the power of the Fel needed the souls of thousands of slaves. It is an ugly process, which is why we needed that humanising anchor branded in our mind’s eye before the invasion of the human’s world.
Fantasy film is in itself, like Fel magic. It’s hold on us becomes greater the more the narrative elements are rooted in a reality applicable to the human experience. This fantasy however is not a stratified political drama like Games Of Thrones, or even a beautifully personified battle of the yin and yang like we’ve seen in Lord Or The Rings. Nevertheless, it does make a few political points… about the refugee crises.
Given the political and emotive attachment to this topic, I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my words as some beligerent Trump rally cry. God no. My faculties are still about me. But the effort to humanise the Orcs, or at least, the members of the Wolf clan and the ‘half-breed’ Orc-human Garona (Paula Patton), does its best to dull any ugly comparisons that draw influence from crises in today’s world regarding refugees.
The Orcs world, barren and dying, forces the clans to seek other worlds for shelter, food and new homes to survive. But the reason the Orcs have to abandon ship is not because of something an outsider did to them… it’s their own fault, allowing one of their kind to use Fel magic to corrupt the land, ruled by dictator-esque Gul’dan.
Instantaneously, you can take Fel magic and replace it with a certain religion, Orcs with a certain people, and suddenly you’ve stripped away the veil-thin fantasy and are glaring into a full-fledged Anglocentric view of the world. Intentional? Maybe. Maybe not. But it does help give context to the film’s narrative construct. And it also makes us realise that despite the humanising elements placed in the film, the Orcs refer to themselves as the horde. They are the bad guys. David Cameron and the conservative party would agree.
The powerful wizard Jesus gets corrupted by Fel magic somehow (must have been all that bathing and reading) and finds himself playing a part in the invasion of the ‘horde’. Which essentially gets written off as a mistake. Oops. Wasn’t in his right mind. And he did try to correct it by offering safe passage for the freed slaves to escape via the gate.
Revenge and Sacrifice. Hollywood staples. One is the greatest motivator. The other, the greatest act of humanity. Both of which Warcraft attempts to fuse into their narrative. And it works… in the scene where Mendivh reckless lighting magic in the valley created a impenetrable forcefield that separated Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and his son, leaving the son vulnerable to the Orc’s slaughter. Lothat witnesses his son being cut down and impaled the Orc unable to stop him or come to the aid of his son. Already we’re hoping to see the kind of emotive moment like we saw in 300, a father forced to bury his son, such an unnatural order of things. Then seeking revenge and justice, which comes to a fever pitch when the evil that snuffed his son’s life meets judgement by his hands… then quick run, slide under Blackhand’s feet, cut his belly open and voila. Revenge complete. Not as dramatic when you end like that, is it? Well that’s exactly what happened. All those words before was me fluffing things up. I hope you are not satisfied. Because I sure wasn’t.
But in the ‘sacrifice’ arena, things certainly are more conceivable. The act of a mother Draka placing her only son, the last heir of the clan in a basket, sailing him off and trusting his life to the river waters that carry him and to the will of nature… was heart wrenching. Only because, as it is with these things, I internalise it… deeply. Everyone loves a good Moses story and a look at the inevitable sequel that is to follow- a Lion King-esque / Star Wars-y orphans-return-to-greatness story.
But wait, what did
Preacher Dominic Cooper’s Llane Wrynn selfless sacrifice look like? “Here, Corona Garona, take the special dagger my wife Tulip Lady Taria gave you, and kill me in the battlefield. Gain the respect of the orcs, and, using your mixed heritage, unify our worlds”… What now?
1. That’s a pretty steep gamble with many moving parts.
2. You’re kingdom is being invaded by Orcs, and Gul’dan is still alive to try and open the portal to bring war to the humans. Why would the king ask to be killed to help unify them in the land? You were only a few moments earlier trying to legit kill and contain the Orcs. Why would Wrynn’s desire to unify the lands and the Orcs, when you know for sure that only one clan doesn’t necessarily want to turn your kingdom in a cinerary pile.
Which leads us to Gorona. The conversation by the bonfire moved pretty quickly from sex- saying that Moroes, Medivh’s castellan / failed protegé, eyeing her in her sleep wanted to lay with her- to being scarred and broken, which implied abuse from the Orcs (maybe rape)? And being half-human and half-orc, my first thoughts wasn’t the abuse she suffered, but the inner-mechanics of orc-human ‘relations’. And having a name like Gorona that means ‘cursed’, and to have the humans like Llane Wrynn bellow her name knowing its meaning after she told them, well, doesn’t seem like the kind of people you’d go to battle for so readily, does it. Okay I’m fishing a bit, but you get my drift.
The hollywood-video game movie curse has reigned over the lands of entertainment for a myriad. And Warcraft, the live-action adaptation planned to do better than the likes of Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, which inevitably lost steam and relevance quickly. They needed something with stunning visuals, but rooted in drama and narrative. Warcraft was a good attempt… but falls short of glory. With a world as rich as WOW, the visuals, details to creatures and set locations / easter eggs were immaculate as ever. It felt like a world built up brick by brick. Our issues are with, as ever, the narrative construct and some character motivations. And honestly we get it. There is something has having to much choice. WOW has a vast, layered universe with gaming fans in the millions, who have their own ideas of how to see the franchise realised in audio-visual form. Thats a lot of avenues to consider. Conflict creates compelling narrative. especially if the come from both sides. However, Orcs were the aggressors in this film. Things just happened to the humans. So essentially we were watching crashing waves against jagged rock cliff than a celestial meteorite crashing in the seas at the precise moment a tsunami reached up to greet it.
Warcraft: The Beginning could definitely have garnered the presence and majesty wielded by established fantasy juggernauts. The could have adopted the wonder and adventure of LOTR. Or the political strata of Game of Thrones. Or the terror and magic of Harry Potter. Something that gave it more of a filmic edge, bridging the gap between game fans and film lovers. As Batman V Superman taught us, iconic easter egg references and IP fan-service makes not a movie. And with this being the beginning it was integral that the film found the right footing. This is not to say it can’t be saved with a sequel. But a more political fantasy I think would serve the franchise well to bring in fans from both sides of the fantasy gate, of course without the incest.