World of Warcraft catapulted Blizzard’s fantastic franchise into the mainstream upon its 2004 release. The game took the good will of Warcraft 3 and raked in more of it, flushing out its canon into a deep and rich one. A movie in the near future was a good bet — and planned in 2006.
Nearly 12 years after the game’s launch and a handful of delays, the cinematic Warcraft raids theaters Friday. Guiding viewers into the orcs vs. humans battlefield is Duncan Jones, the director of sci-fi breakout Moon and the clever Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Source Code.
Facing extinction, the Orcs — led by Durotan (Tony Kebbell) and Orgrim (Rob Kazinsky) — take their chance of survival by going through a portal that takes them from their home planet of Draenor to the Human’s land, Azeroth. Their arrival immediately spawns conflict with Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), King Llane (Dominic Cooper), and the rest of the Alliance. Both sides fight to protect their homes and families.
The epic throw down might captivate theatergoers, but it didn’t win over critics. At all. EW’s Chris Nashawaty likened the endeavor to “being bludgeoned on the head with a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.”
“Terrible even by the low standard of videogame-to-movie adaptations,” he writes in a D review, “Duncan Jones’ 3-D action-fantasy endurance test is a cautionary tale of what can happen when Hollywood blindly chases after popular properties in the hopes of minting the next blockbuster franchise.”
There was little praise for the pervasive special effects, labeled as “cheap” and “artificial” in some reviewers’ write-ups; however, the scant positive reviews did commend the CGI work. As for the actors, Kebbell won recognition for giving his digitized Orc life and heart, but few others stood out.
Read more critics takes below, before Warcraft‘s release Friday.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“…sitting through Warcraft feels like you’re watching a foreign film without subtitles…and with the reels in the wrong order. The storytelling is ham-fisted and silly, the characters are dull and unmemorable, and despite its massive budget, the special effects look cheap and cheesy. Worst of all, Warcraft is basically two hours of set-up for a sequel that may never happen and one you’d probably skip anyway. D“
Sheri Linden (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Beneath the richly textured layers of motion capture, animation and 3D modeling lie the basics: conflict, survival, family, loyalty. While the enormity of the undertaking is evident in every frame of the sci-fi medieval-ish action saga, director Duncan Jones manages, for the most part, to keep it from lumbering. With an emphasis on craft over war, the characters are front and center, and those that are partly digital creations are among its most memorable.”
Alan Scherstuhl (The Village Voice)
“Fans of the beat-’em-ups will be even more miserable. Warcraft plods toward its climactic battle like Sisyphus shoving that stone up Hell’s hill — you’ll abandon hope of it ever getting there. It’s the kind of day-killer of a movie that, just before the third act, shackles its heroes in prison cells. Is there any viewer who doesn’t know they’ll eventually escape, and that the lockup scenes are the best possible time to go to the bathroom?”
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“Critics throw the term ‘soulless corporate filmmaking’ around with abandon, but movies like Warcraft really manage to redefine the term. … Imagine Battlefield Earth without the verve, or the unintentional comedy, and you’ve got Warcraft.”
Geoff Berkshire (Variety)
“The epic battle at the center of Warcraft isn’t the clash between humans and orcs. That’s just what takes up roughly two hours of screen time. The true conflict comes from filmmakers trying to tell a story with soul and struggling against the inherent ridiculousness of the commodity they’re working with. It shouldn’t take a mage to foresee that this pricey and preposterous adaptation of an online gaming phenomenon was preordained for artistic mediocrity.”
Brian Truitt (USA Today)
“Director Duncan Jones’ adventurous adaptation of the popular role-playing game doesn’t have the expansive nature or deep mythology — at least not yet — of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series, but Warcraft wins by not trying to be the second coming of a 10-hour cinematic trip through Mordor with Hobbits and jewelry. Rather, it’s a simpler, yet still wholly entertaining tale of magic and larger-than-life soldiers in a battle for survival.”
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)
“Warcraft would be easy to relegate to the bargain bin of 1980s B-grade guilty-pleasure fantasy pictures such as Krull or Yor, the Hunter from the Future, except that the game’s popularity guarantees a healthy international box office haul … and the entire movie is structured as the opening chapter of a much longer saga. The story doesn’t end so much as stop, leaving enough plot threads dangling for at least two sequels. The Warcraft hardcore can rejoice. Everyone else can move along. There’s not much to see here.”
A.A. Dowd (The A.V. Club)
“Rarely is so much time, money, and cutting-edge technology expended on a spectacle so devoid of wonder. Instead of immersing viewers in its magical realm, as most great fantasies do, this adaptation of Blizzard’s wildly popular game series keeps them at an alienating remove. Great effort has been taken to assure that we can see every vertebrate of a dead animal worn like body armor, but none seems to have been applied to making the characters come alive, the environments seem defined, or the special effects look convincing. … It’s massive only in budget and miscalculation.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 31
Rotten Tomatoes: 23 percent
Length: 123 minutes
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Daniel Wu, Clancy Brown, Toby Kebbell, Rob Kazinsky, Paula Patton, Ben Schnetzer
Directed by: Duncan Jones