Review: 'Warcraft: The Beginning' has spectacular visuals but too many characters

Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and Garona (Paula Patton) in “Warcraft: The Beginning.” (United International Pictures)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 123 minutes (~2 hours)

“Warcraft: The Beginning” is a fantasy adventure movie that’s based on the Warcraft franchise of real-time strategy games. It sees two competing races of Orcs and Humans in a war for survival. It stars Travis Fimmel (Sir Anduin Lothar), Paula Patton (Garona Halforcen), Ben Foster (Medivh), Dominic Cooper (King Llane Wrynn), Toby Kebbell (Durotan), Ben Schnetzer (Khadgar), Robert Kazinsky (Orgrim Doomhammer), Daniel Wu (Gul'dan), Ruth Negga (Lady Tarai Wrynn), and Clancy Brown (Blackhand). It is rated PG-13.

If you’ve played any of the Warcraft games (or any Blizzard games, for that matter), you’ll have very high expectations for anything that Blizzard puts out. To truly enjoy the movie, put away those expectations but read up on the backstory behind Warcraft. It’s not a terrible film, but it certainly isn’t as satisfying as the games that it’s based on. Long story short, you’d be better off playing the Warcraft campaigns again instead of watching the film.

Durotan (Toby Kebbell) in “Warcraft: The Beginning.” (United International Pictures)


Colourful and evocative

“Warcraft: The Beginning” recreates the colourful visuals of the game, with faithful representations of the signature abilities of the heroes, such as teleportation via runes and boomsticks. It also gives us many shots of armies clashing, mimicking the look of a late game skirmish. The film depicts a colourful, fantastic world of larger than life characters, and this is perhaps the greatest strength of the movie.

Orgrim Doomhamer (Robert Kazinsky) in “Warcraft: The Beginning.” (United International Pictures)


Lacks exposition

Even if you’re a casual player of Warcraft or World of Warcraft, you’re still going to be pretty lost for the first half of the movie. “Warcraft: The Beginning” throws world-specific terms at you without explanation, forcing you to guess what it all means — while you’re still getting a handle on a huge cast of characters. It doesn’t explain what the characters’ powers and abilities are, so it sucks the tension out of fights since you know they might suddenly pull a deus ex machina move (like they do through the whole film).

What the film really needed was a character that the audience could see through the eyes of, a character who’s new to the world and hence requires a lot of explaining of how the world works. Otherwise it requires a lot of reading up (at best) or becomes alienating (at worst).

Too much dialogue, not enough action

What makes the lack of exposition worse is that there are so many talking heads. Sure, their costumes and the sets are interesting enough that you could just admire the scene while they speak, but there is just so much talking. The dialogue could be cut in half and spliced into the action scenes and there would be no discernible difference. To make matters worse, there aren’t enough battles to capture the feeling of a movie with the word “war” in its title. It’s a drama with some mass battles, rather than a war film.

Weak resolution

The characters’ decisions in the climax are mind-boggling, and create a very artificial sense of division and sorrow for everyone involved. It’s like the story wrote itself into a corner and then decided to create the most convoluted resolution as possible to resolve everything. If it was an impactful finish it would be fine, but instead it gives you a limp ending that is obviously paving the way for a hundred more sequels. What happened to a good, self-contained story?

Shallow development of characters

You’ll constantly ask yourself why the characters do what they do. Sure, they may be noble or brave or conflicted, but when the film bounces from character to character every five minutes, there’s not enough time to settle down and really get to know their motivations. And the problem with such a mammoth cast of characters is that there’s no time to develop them properly, so you rarely have any empathy for the tragedies that befall them.

Garona in “Warcraft: The Beginning.” (United International Pictures)

“Warcraft: The Beginning” is so disappointingly mediocre.

Should you watch this if it’s free? OK.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? If you really like the Warcraft games and you’re familiar with the lore.

Score: 2.25/5

“Warcraft: The Beginning” opens in cinemas 9 June, 2016 (Thursday).