Contrary to impressions I could have given, I was never actually big on fantasy epics. I don’t know why. I feel it may be that I prefer stories that remain grounded into some level of reality. I was never big on The Lord of the Rings, but Harry Potter, trying to ground itself into a semi-real Britain despite the fantastical elements of the setting, worked better for me. It’s the same for science-fiction; I’m always more interested in sci-fi that keeps a foot into the world I know, to some degree. (Although, sci-fi stories that stray from that mold do tend to interest me more than fantasy going the same route.)
Also of note is that this film, released to North American theaters on June 10th, 2016, is not an adaptation of World of Warcraft, even if that is the most famous title of the franchise as well as the biggest MMORPG of all time. The film aims lower by adapting the very first game in the series, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, released in 1994. As a result, it tries to pull quadruple duty. First, it adapts the game's story. Second, however, is that it does so while integrating lore and elements from later games, which expand the tale and add relevant details. Third, however, is that there is an attempt to not overload viewers with lore, despite so much of it being necessary. Fourth, finally, is to still be approachable to whomever isn’t familiar with the series (like me!).
Obviously, I’m gonna do my best to move past my own bias. Let’s at least see whether the film manages to accomplish these four goals.
The movie opens on a fight scene between a human knight and an orc, long after the events of the movie – already spoiling that the next two hours won’t have a happy denouement. Mention is made of “the Fel”. Soon the orc, a green-skinned brute with spiky armor, makes swift work of the knight. Skull axe to the head, works like a charm.
|Even for races that live for war. family is sacred.|
Dom from The Fast and teh Furious would be proud.
|The hair on his skin, the wrinkles in his face,|
the lighting, every spot of age... Impressive.
|Gul'Dan couldn't look more like a bad guy, and Garona|
couldn't look more like someone who would, without any
hesitation, switch to the other side given the chance.
Gul’dan is the reason the orcs have reunited: Their world, Draenor, is dying, so the warlock wants to open a portal into a new world to settle into. The warlock uses the Fel, a green-tinted form of dark magic that is obtained by draining the life force of others. His plan thus involves sending a warband through, and use that army to round up new victims on the other side, as fuel to open the portal for the remainder of the Horde.
The portal is opened with the life force of Draenei captives, and the warriors run through. Durotan goes in before his wife, who follows, but she feels intense pain during the trip across the magical gate. Having come through as well, Gul’dan helps the orc woman give birth to an asphyxiated baby. Using the Fel, the warlock saps the energy of a fawn to revive the child, whose skin takes a notable green tint as he’s brought back to life. Behind the warriors, the portal closes.
|And that is how the invasion began: With a birth.|
Let’s see what the humans are up to…
|Two of our main characters, they just met and|
they're already fighting. That's a good look!
|The best king, the best mage, and the best|
There, Khadgar reveals himself to be a Guardian novitiate from Kirin Tor who defected to investigate the arrival of the Fel. Since this is worrisome news, Lothar and Khadgar are allowed by the King to head to the magical tower of Karazhan, where the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) lives, flying on a gryphon’s back. Damn, that’s the coolest means of transportation. Try to beat that, eagles of Lord of the Rings!
|Oh, Lothar (on the right)... That's the faceof someone who|
doesn't like teleportation.
|I imagine Durotan going, "blue magic that is't powered by|
killing? What is this thing??"
|This battle was like a TTRPG fight. The soldiers were good,|
but not good enough against powerful opponents. Yet again,
it's the wizards who deal the most damage.
Either that or Medivh had secret aces in his robe's sleeves.
The film does some interesting things. It’s implied that neither group actually speaks English, but the film switches to English for the side in focus. If orcs speak English, it’s the humans who speak an unknown tongue, and vice versa. It’s done to great effect. Second, there are a lot of names of characters and places to keep track of, but it’s not insurmountable. It’s still a lot of information in a short span of time (I’m not even 30 minutes in), but the plot is set and we have seen every major player and the stakes. So far, this is a very competently-made movie.
|For now they treat her like an orc. Since she speaks their|
language, soon they'll have the decency to treat her like
|"We've just arrived and the place is already a mess."|
|Again, the special effects are top-notch. The interactions|
between CGI and live-action characters, for one; you can
really believe Durotan is holding Khadgar hostage in his
|Humans, elves, wizards and dwarves. Guess which of the|
four are the only CGI creatures at the table?
|Gee, good thing Khadgar hid away the one page that turned|
out to be the most important, huh?
|That meeting began with the best intentions...|
It's gonna go to Hell real fast.
|While it is awesome that the King joins the battle, I have a|
point of criticism: His armor betrays that he's the richest dude
on the field, it's like painting a big ol' bull's-eye on his back
with the words "I am the King, come kill me" all over it.
The soldiers attempt a retreat as well but are caught in the fight with the orcs. Lothar’s son Callan is also part of the garrison; the kid even devises a formation on the fly to best deal with the orcs and their giant wolves. Once the humans have grouped up, Medivh casts a spell that transforms thunder into a protective barrier, preventing orcs from attacking them.
That’s when Lothar sees his son is on the other side.
|Hoo boy, that's not gonna end well.|
|...Claw hand to the chest. ...Works every time.|
As the garrison leaves, Khadgar and Garona find Medivh fainted from his lookout point. On request from King Llane, they fly him to Karazhan and dip him in his pool of mana so he’ll regain his energy. However, the Guardian’s eyes glow green as he gasps for air. The apprentice knows exactly what that means. I’m gonna hate the color green once I’m done with this film, I swear...
Speaking of, this has been going long enough, and it's a good cliffhanger. See you in Part 2.