I never played World of Warcraft but I did enjoy the strategy games they made way back in the nineties, when I was a kid. The Warcraft I remember most playing looked like this:So my understanding of the lore of the Warcraft universe prior to this movie is extremely basic at best, even though I am all about epic fantasy.
I wanted to see the Warcraft movie, not because I’m a connoisseur of that universe, but because it was the first fantasy movie since The Hobbit trilogy ended in the kind of style that I always want to see. What I mean is the kind of epic fantasy that is set in a completely different world, featuring elves and dragons and mighty armies clashing. That’s the kind of material I want to see most in a big blockbuster movie, and despite the huge success of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth adaptations, it’s still extremely rare, and it’s even rarer to see it done well.
I guess I was feeling a bit starved, because I have to admit that the trailers for the Warcraft movie only looked mildly interesting to me, but I was so ready for this movie, just because of the genre it represents. On top of that, I’ve always had a thing for Orcs the way they were portrayed in the Warhammer and Warcraft settings: big, hulking, green guys with massive tusks and huge weapons. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. I just like them, okay?
So I finally saw this movie the other day, going in with enthusiasm but low expectations. Video game movies have a terrible track record, as everybody knows, and I was prepared for this being another kitschy, braindead action spectacle. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
The Warcraft movie is awesome! Not only does it look amazing, boasting some of the coolest CGI creatures and sets I’ve ever seen, but it’s actually a really, really good story. And I say that as one who is not immersed in this particular lore, but who simply loves good epic fantasy. In the first 15 minutes of the movie I had a little bit of trouble keeping up with the rather large amount of characters being introduced, particularly on the human side, so I got a little bit worried that this was going to be for hardcore fans only. Luckily, that fear subsided pretty quickly as it became clear who the most important characters were and their names were thankfully repeated enough times for my tiny brain to remember them for two hours.
Even as something of an outsider, I could tell that writer/director Duncan Jones really loves and respects the lore of this universe. The movie made no attempts to dumb down or commercialize the storytelling. The plot isn’t reduced to noble humans fighting evil Orcs, but it shows nuance and subtlety, with heroes on both sides trying to navigate a difficult conflict. It treats the thematic material with respect, such as the addictive and corrupting influence of unbridled power, even on those who mean well. The movie never tried to win over the sneering hipsters by being edgy or ironic or self-aware or forcing modern sensibilities into its fantasy world. Instead, it took the world and the characters seriously and presented an actual earnest tale of heroism, adventure and tragedy.
And this is precisely why critics hated the movie and audiences loved it:
You see, audiences are still just normal people who love a good tale. And movie critics are apparently still the same boring, snobbish, pseudo-intellectual hipsters they were back in the nineties. I haven’t really paid attention to them for years, but I had kind of hoped that some evolution would have occurred. With the rise of genre movies (particularly superheroes), you would expect to see a change of attitude in reviewers. Since a huge part of moviegoing audiences obviously loves escapism and special effects, it would be normal for the press to respond to this by hiring some writers who share this enthusiasm. Instead, the press once again proves its arrogance and elitism by basically sneering at the tastes of the common man.
Well, let them. As audiences grow more confident in what they want, Hollywood will be forced to respond by giving it to them, and the obnoxious snobs will either have to capitulate or fade away. I for one am happy that at least one filmmaker dared to make the decision to believe in this material and not treat it as a joke or a platform for social commentary because it’s “just a video game movie”.
Well done, Duncan Jones!