I Saw the Warcraft Movie and It Didn’t Suck

warcraft movieBased on the disgruntlements I have heard from “The Internets”, I had very low expectations for this film.  Had I had moderately high expectations, they would have been exceeded. I quite enjoyed it.

Spoilers below the cut.  Don’t read if you intend to see the movie now and don’t want spoilers. On the other hand, if you’re waiting for the Blu-Ray, you’re part of the problem and you deserve no spoiler guards, so read on.

(If you’re unable to afford to see the movie, this is probably your only chance to find out what’s in the movie since you wouldn’t be able to afford the disk, either, unless you plan to pirate it. Don’t pirate it.)

Okay, to summarize, this is the story of the First War between Humans and Orcs, the first opening of the Dark Portal. This is a story that has been mythologized, and, dare I say it, fetishized by the Trufans and Lore nerds alike. But Blizz didn’t have to just please us nerds. They had to make a movie that would sell to a more general audience, say, to the tune of 60 or so mil the first week. To say that Duncan Jones had his work cut out for him is a gross understatement. It might almost be said that there was no way he could win regardless what choices he made.

To Further Summarize

The story goes like this: The Orc warlock Gul’dan temporarily opens the Portal to Azeroth so that a war party can squeeze through, secure a beachhead, and build the other end of the Portal so that it can be opened permanently and all of Orc kind can get through to claim this new world.

The people of Stormwind, lead by King Llane Wrynn (Varian’s father) and Anduin Lothar (brother to the Queen and a pretty big deal in the Stormwind  army), must stop this invasion before the portal is opened again.

The Horde has some internal dissent lead by Durotan, and the half-Orc Garona finds herself as an unlikely go-between for the two factions. Meanwhile, the mage Khadgar is trying to solve the mystery of “the Fel”, despite the way that the Guardian of Tirisfal, Medivh, seems to be trying to thwart his investigation.

So, more or less what we know, Lore-wise, except for the sketchy bit about Khadgar.

How it Plays Out

As we know, Medivh is working for the Burning Legion and has in fact been the one that gave Gul’dan the information he needed to open the portal in the first place, and it turns out he is instrumental in opening the portal permanently (from Kara, however, unlike in the Black Morass instance where he is actually on-site).

The first act of the movie really focuses on setting up a meeting between Durotan and King Llane, but due to the treachery of Orgrimm Doomhammer, the parlay is ambushed and the Alliance pays with some of its dearest blood.

The second act of the movie is more or less focused on Khadgar’s mystery and Gul’dan’s solidification of his power base, purging the Frostwolves and gaining greater control over the Horde for himself.

The final act revolves around a great battle at the Portal in which Llane is trapped in a situation that he has no hope of escaping (thanks to a) the Frostwolves being all dead and b) Medivh setting him up to be there with a mere 3 legions), and the battle at Karazhan where Khadgar and Lothar fight Medivh in an attempt to stop him from opening the portal.

The upshot is that Medivh is thwarted, Llane is dead, the Horde is still on Azeroth, and the stage is set for The Second War.

Things I liked

Okay, you realize there will be a list of things I didn’t like, as well, but let’s start positive.

  • We opened on a scene showing the actual humanity of Orcs courtesy of Durotan and Drakka.
  • And then the next thing we saw was Ironforge, in all its glory. My dwarven heart swole to three times its size that moment.
  • Cameos. There were a lot of them, from named characters (Hello, Grom) to generic NPCs (Hello, Murlocs)
  • The tradecraft in evidence – In the first scene you know that Drakka and Durotan are models. By the end of that scene, you cease to care. And that carries through the rest of the movie. Purists can whine all they like about the lack of practical models, but this crew did a DAMNED fine job of creating CG characters that not only did you care about, you didn’t even NOTICE were CG. From the mo-cap to the model work, this was top notch and extremely well done.
  • Effects – Listen, we know how magic looks in WoW. And it happens to look pretty much like it looks in that there movie.
  • Much of the acting – Lothar, Khadgar, and Queen Taria (played by the underappreciated Ruth Negga) – was well done, despite any material they may or may not have been given.
  • The acting, dialog, and story was not at the usual ham-fisted Blizzard level as I was lead to expect.
  • They didn’t go too far out of their way for the fan service. The first Warcraft lore was about Humans and Orcs, and this is how the movie played out as well. We got to glimpse Draenai, Elves, and Dwarves, but they were not heavy players in the movie, just as they were not in the game and its lore at this point in the story.
  • They named their baby Go’el instead of Thrall.
  • Elwyn! Goldshire!
  • Khadgar’s sheep joke.
  • Moroes! Future raid boss, but currently dutiful Castellan.

Things I didn’t like

Most of these things come from the perspective of a lore nerd and may or may not have any validity in the overall scheme of things.

  • Jones’ taking liberties with the lore.  He claims he did so because parts of the lore made no sense (were inconsistent) and needed retconning, but I didn’t see where the changes he made did, in fact, need to be made.
  • For example, Medivh was possessed by a demon instead of Sargeras.
  • Khadgar was helped by some Deux ex Machina entity named “Alodi” which as a lore character never before played much of a part in WoW lore, and which, as far as we can tell, could have been replaced by Aegwynn without altering the story (well, maybe would have altered it in a positive way) and yet would have at least given some sort of continuity to the story (Aegwynn was in fact trying to undo her son’s legacy last time we saw her in WoW).
  • Karazhan was completely unrecognizable. /mic drop
  • Dalaran was flying because – and I am not making this up – Jones though it would be “cooler” if Dalaran was already flying, though we know that Dalaran was not a flying city until Arthas as the Lich King started to march on Azeroth again. And also, if it’s flying, how exactly will Archimonde destroy it in the Second War? Huh?  Whole hunk of lore blown to shit there, guys.
  • Garona kills Llane not in an act of treachery but in fact as an act of nobility. (more on that in a moment)
  • The summit of Blackrock Mountain is in fact a chasm?  Do you guys even know what a “summit” is?
  • When Khadgar turns on Medivh, we know what happens to him. Except in this movie, nothing happens to him.
  • “The Fel”.  Why can’t it be “Fel Magic” instead? It would make exactly as much sense and also 100% jibe with current WoW lore and gameplay.

To Summarize (again)

I felt that the lore issues were somewhat minor compared to the quality of the movie and the story it told. I’ve been a staunch supporter of, for example, Jackson’s omission of the Scouring of the Shire from the LotR movies. But sometimes I have a hard time finding common ground.

Garona’s treachery at the behest of the Shadow Council lays the foundation of a deeper story in the following Warcraft games. The Shadow Council is a serious lore entity in Vanilla WoW, even, such as much of the questing in the Alterac region.

In the movie, it is written as an act of nobility, granted to her by Llane as a way out for her and a way to take a victory away from Fel!Blackhand. And, for all I know, that’s the way it really played out. History is written by the victors, and her act of nobility could be seen as an act of treachery in the eyes of the Alliance. In fact, Khadgar and Lothar have that very discussion, more or less, with Khadgar not buying into the Evil Garona story line.

But that’s a small change compared to what was done to Medivh.  In our lore, Medivh is possessed by Sargeras and brings the Horde to Azeroth. In the movie, it’s some demon. Granted, it’s not said that that isn’t Sargeras, but I’m also pretty sure that there was no dramatic transformation in lore. In the movie, well, he’s a demon.

Sargeras plays a major, major part in the lore of Warcraft. The endgame is all about Sargeras. The middle game is all about Sargeras. The beginning game is largely about Sargeras – there’d be no portal with him. To deny his primacy as the mover of all things Legion is to change … a lot of things.

Hell, to be fair the Legion isn’t even a factor in this story, so they’re free to change whatever they want along the way.  But every step away from that  diverges from what we’re playing – and what we’re loving about the game.

This game is not popular for merely its gameplay, its mechanics, its classes or its races. Those are all window dressing, and if it were all about that we’d be on par with EverQuest.

There isn’t an EverQuest movie, for the record.

Whether you get into lore or not, the lore of Warcraft and later WoW has permeated us as a fanbase, and we are agreeable to the lore in many ways.  So to change that, changes how a thing appeals to us.

But the thing is, not just lore geeks and trufans are affected. Any appeal that Warcraft has is based on its current lore. Diverge from that in the wrong way, and you’ll lose a lot of appeal not just your existing fanbase, but the fanbase you wish to acquire.

Conclusions

This movie hews close enough to the lore that you can watch and enjoy it as a Warcraft or WoW fan and be pretty damned happy about it.

The important question for any franchise movie is simple: will I want to see the next installment?

In my case, the answer is an unequivocal YES.  HELLS TO THE YESSS, if you don’t mind.

In a recent Nerdist podcast, director Duncan Jones embarked on a ten minute rant about genre and franchise movies, stating regretfully that such movies crowded out the small yet daring movies, the independents that took risks and went outside the accepted norms. Chris Hardwick, the host of The Nerdist Podcast, commiserated, to which Jones then responded, “Ask me if I’d make Warcraft 2.”

Hardwick: “Would you make Warcraft 2?”

Jones: “Yeah, probably.”

We may all rage against the machine, but when it comes to seeing beloved locales and people depicted on the big screen, we’re all pretty much there with Duncan Jones.

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Posted on June 19, 2016, in Life Imitates WoW and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Fantastic summary there Grimm! I agree I thought Ruth Negga did a great job as queen lore doesn’t really mention her much except SOMEONE had to father Varian. I wanted to talk about the lore variations on my post but I kinda got sleepy and forgot so I’m glad I can comment on them here.
    The flying Dalaran is a lot better for “general public” than a grounded one. It makes it more magical in my opinion and if later it flies, people who aren’t in WoW are going to wonder why it had to do that at all, even though we have an explanation for it in lore.
    The INSIDE of Kara was recognisable, don’t you think? The library was great, and the stairs! I did like how the fel explosion decimated Deadwind pass and made it what it looks like now.
    They didn’t say he was Sargeras, true, but it doesn’t matter if they named him or not, as it only matters to use as lore buffs. For the uninitiated it becomes another name to confuse you. Generic demon is ok – I think in a later movie they can pull out Sargeras and have flashbacks to when he was in Medivh to join the dots.
    And I laughed when you pointed out the summit of Blackrock was a chasm? Hilarious, I didn’t even notice that! What I did feel, was that the area felt like the part in Frostfire ridge where you do the Battle of Thunder pass, rather than at Blackrock mountain.
    You know what, this comment is getting way too long. I think I have to make a blog post about it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Like

  2. @Navi, I do tend to agree on the inside of Kara being somewhat familiar-“feeling”. The library “felt” familiar even if it didn’t really fit the mold of the library we see after we take out Curator (more claustrophobic in the movie). But, yeah, a lot of the interiors had a familiar vibe.

    The chasm at Blackrock actually did look familiar, a lot like the chasm to the immediate east of the southern exist. In fact, that whole area has a very demonic theme to it in the game (the Warlock steed quest took you there for example). But it was a tad inconsistent with the movie’s dialog.

    I really don’t have much problem with flying Dal other than the implications towards the Legion’s invasion. Archi’s destruction of Dalaran is kind of a pivotal moment in game lore. I’m not sure how they’re going to sell that if they get that far in the movies (and dear Gawd I hope they do).

    Sargeras … well, again I have to reiterate that there is a LOT of the lore driven by Sargeras’ interventions here on Azeroth, so writing him out sets the stage for stripping out or repurposing a LOT of stuff. Think about all of the Titan-related stuff that suddenly is nowhere near as important if we don’t also have Sargeras and the Legion to contend with. I though the Chronicles did a great job of explaining his purposes and motivations, dovetailing nicely with everything else we know. I will concede, however, that the Chronicles did not exist when they wrote this script. So I guess we’ll see what comes to pass in the future movies.

    Looking forward to your musings on the topic! 🙂

    Like

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