Warcraft (2016) Movie Review

There has been a war between Orcs and Humans as long as anyone can remember. Thus is the world of Warcraft (pun. apologies.). We follow an Orc warrior in tow with his warring clan as well as his wife and child to be. We also follow a band of humans who are combating the oncoming onslaught of Orcs using the magical guidance of the Guardian (Ben Foster). There is also a Halfling (Paula Patton) (which is to say, half Orc, half human) who is caught in the middle of these warring races.


The film throws you into a narrative already in motion, in medias res as is the fantasy genre standard. The problem with this in this particular instance is that the film does not bother cluing the viewer in on the inner workings of the diegetic world. What this results in is the entire setup feeling like an in-joke, a premise only those already in the know going in will understand. This is very limiting in terms of bringing in a mainstream audience.

Of course, to define is to limit. You need truly know very little to appreciate the action. Fantasy films suffer from stigmas (mainly due to the abundance of past examples of genre failure). As such, the fantasy action sequence never really gets its due outside of Tolkien adaptations.

Here, we certainly bear witness to grand scale fantasy action on a macro budget, and it pays off when we zoom in on particular moments of swordplay. Action scenes, on the whole, play out with splendid choreography, albeit with underutilized 3D technology. What crumbles these action sequences to the ground is when we pull back to the grand scale battle at hand, where warriors are delineated to dot-sized pixels.

On the other hand, a handful of shots do look quite good, particularly establishing shots. But the mise en scene looks too artificial for it to be worth the extravagant shot. These shots at times show extraordinary depth of field, but it is green-screened. Thus, the cinematic merits of such depth are put into question. Certainly the animators are deserving of credit for the nuanced textures of the landscape. Although, these expansive environments are sullied when littered with repetitive avatars as specks moving in battle.

These avatars of hulking Orc beasts, even when viewed up close, look more video game than photo-real. Though this may be the point, it makes for a film visually worthy of an over-produced cutscene.

One stigma of fantasy is the use of “fantasy dialects,” where beasts speak broken English and man speaks in vague, varying English accents. Here, this tactic is largely abandoned. However, this causes there to be no solidified dialects at all, which acts to ruin realism within the world of the film, and enough of the dialect still remains as to stilt the acting, largely across the board, making it all come off wooden or artificial.

Artificial is the keyword when analyzing this film. The brilliance of depth and vibrant visual composition is rendered less impressive due to artifice. Action is choreographed for excitement but limited by CG character augmentation that emotionally distances the viewer from the battle. When closeup, the camera work is strong enough to make for compelling action, but extreme long shots become meaningless masses of moving dots. And the narrative is nonsensical in its overwrought complexity that is somehow complex without depth. In the end, this leaves us with swinging swords whose glint gets caught on camera just right, and nothing else.


The Post-Script

This artifice is the problem inherent in the ever-failing video game adaptation. It is hard for these films to find the correct balance between looking like a video game and looking like a film. This movie does it better than I have seen before, but it still is not the balance needed for a truly cinematic video game film.


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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