In the last few years, Hollywood has become increasingly obsessed with the fast-growing Chinese market. Warcraft: The Beginning is ample evidence as to why that is. The movie was a massive flop in the US, grossing less than $50 million there on a $160 million budget. However, it made over $220 million in China, meaning that instead of being one of the biggest box office disasters ever, they’re now thinking of making a sequel.
The disparity between the US and China reception of this movie is a bit difficult to explain. While American audiences certainly had a lot of choice this summer, it’s a surprise a few more didn’t choose this film, as it’s quite fun.
Based on the video games, the movie opens in the world of the Orcs, which is dying. Their warlock, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), opens a portal to the planet of Azeroth, where he intends to take the Orcs and where he know he can find a new source for the Fel, an evil magic that feeds off life itself.
On Azeroth, the humans begin to realise a new enemy has arrived, and it’s one that could be an enormous threat. There are also Orcs who are beginning to wonder whether what they’re doing is right, with Durotan (Toby Kebbell) leading the voices suggesting that perhaps Gul’dan and the Fel merely bring death and destruction. Those on both sides, including the human military leader Lothar (Travis Fimmel), may be going into war, but they become increasingly aware that the Fel may be the greatest threat to all of them.
The Warcraft games and associated books and merchandise etc. is by some measures the biggest entertainment property ever, bringing in billions of dollars over more than 20 years. The filmmakers are well aware of that, as well as that it has millions of devoted fans who adore both the Alliance and the Horde, and who wouldn’t accept anything that didn’t feel truth to the world of Azeroth. However, they’re also aware that there are many more out there who know nothing of it, and so the movie has to conduct a careful balancing act, explaining the fantasy realm to newbies, without boring those who already know.
There are times when it doesn’t do that too well, either getting a little dull by spending ages explaining things with people standing around talking, or being a little confusing when things happen but non-Warcraft fans won’t know why. However, that’s not too surprising, as it’s a complex world that’s grown ever deeper over the last couple of decades.
Luckily it’s anchored by a decent story, made more interesting by the fact it ensures there are heroes on both sides of the war. Indeed, it opens with narration from the Orc’s perspective, talking in a way where you’re almost being prepared for humans to be the bad guys. It turns out to be more complex than that, and that while the two sides will remain enemies, they’re not as different as they might first appear, and they’re all just trying to do the right thing.
All that’s backed up by plenty of action, and lots of special effects. The latter are particularly impressive, particularly the creation of the CGI orcs, which often look and feel completely real. That’s helped both by the likes of Industrial Light & Magic, and the talents of the actors in motion capture suits.
It’s not a masterpiece. At times it’s a little too uneven and po-faced for its own good and the script tends towards cliché – indeed, it’s difficult not to feel the filmmakers spent so much time on complex and impressive world-building, that the dialogue rather suffered. That said, it’s also entertaining and particularly in the second half, a lot of fun to watch. It’s no Lord Of The Rings, which it does sometimes seem to be striving to be, but it’s certainly not bad. What it also does a great job of is setting things up so it’d be interesting to see what comes next – and thanks to China, we may well now get to see what that is.
The film looks great on Blu-ray, and there’s also a decent selection of special features, including a lengthy prequel motion-comic, which helps adds context to some of the things that happen in the movie. There are also some decent ‘making of…’ featurettes, which are well worth a look.
Overall Verdict: It may be uneven and at times a little messy, but Warcraft: The Beginning is also an entertaining movie, filled with impressive special effects and a beautifully built world.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac