Last night, I was finally able to go see the much anticipated #Warcraft movie. Leaving the theater, I had mixed feelings about the movie’s overall success. As someone who has played the World of Warcraft game since the “Mists of Pandaria” expansion and is familiar with the characters, I thought the movie was a remarkable introduction of the world of Azeroth to the silver screen. However, if I took a step back and looked at it from an outsider’s perspective, I wasn’t as impressed.
Prior to seeing Warcraft, I had tremendous hopes that the movie would go beyond dazzling its player audience and appeal to an even wider audience of people who appreciate epic fantasy stories. I was introduced to the franchise by my boyfriend, and even though I had never played the original Warcraft RTS games, the first of which the movie is based on, I was somewhat familiar with the historical event the movie depicts, and I was definitely familiar with several of the characters who take part in the story. With that being said, I knew the story of Warcraft is amazing. Some of my favorite conversations with my boyfriend are the ones where he passionately describes the history of Warcraft to me. He becomes very excited when he talks about all of the different events, characters and their motivations. When I listen to him tell it, I hear all of the elements that make a grand and compelling story, and I was looking forward to seeing that story come to life and work its way into the hearts of a general audience much like how Lord of the Rings did. With it being a major blockbuster film, I believed that Warcraft would be designed to do that instead of simply appealing to its player base.
This grand expectation is what led to my only disappointment with the film: even though the movie had amazing visual effects and action sequences that a general audience can appreciate, the presentation of the story was not very friendly to people who are not already familiar with it. I have read a few of the negative reviews for the film, and though I would like to be defensive of the movie’s criticisms, I find all of my counterarguments being that the critics do not understand because they haven’t played the game. All this argument does is strengthen the reasons why the critics weren’t impressed with Warcraft. Sadly, I have to admit that the filmmakers failed to make a movie that would successfully engage a general audience. To realize this, I had to take a step back and look at the movie as though I was an outsider to the story. I put on my writer’s cap and recognized what weakened the movie’s overall effect: characterization and exposition.
Characterization in Warcraft
First, I have to start by saying that not all of the characterizations were weak. The writers did a tremendous job of characterizing some key players in the story, such as Gul-dan and Kadghar. Gul-dan, an orc warlock who uses fel magic and is responsible for the deterioration of the orcs’ world, Draenor, was brilliantly depicted as a despotic leader who is corrupted by power. Khadgar, a human mage who abandoned his training to pursue something greater, was certainly one that viewers could get attached to as they watch him grow and learn throughout the film. It was especially neat how, if you pay close attention, you can see Khadgar copying Medivh’s spells, which shows that Khadgar is a remarkably talented and intelligent young mage.
However, I do feel that the movie doesn’t do some of the characters justice, and I can see how their lack of characterization can make it hard for viewers to be drawn to them or understand their significance. Although there are more characters I can apply the same critical eye to, for the sake of brevity, I am just going to take a closer look at two of the main characters, Garona and Medivh. Before I dive into these characters and explain why I feel they were poorly characterized, I do want to acknowledge that I understand that, normally, it’s a good writing technique to not reveal everything to your viewers off the bat or to beat viewers over the head with exposition. With these critiques, I am not suggesting that the Warcraft movie should have done this. Rather, I feel that the movie could have built more dramatic scenes with better interactions that would have revealed these key character elements which were left out.
Garona Halforcen: NOT half-orc, half-human
While the movie did a great job of portraying Garona as a bad-ass, there are some aspects of her story that they could have played up more and would have given the movie a much better overall dramatic effect, especially since they were already giving her role in the story a lot of emphasis. Garona was more than just a slave to the Horde, and while it seems a lot of outsider movie-goers believe she is half-orc, half-human, she is actually half-orc, half-draenei. It’s not even possible for Garona to be half-orc and half-human because there were no human races in Draenor where she was born. The fact that viewers are making this mistake helps prove the point that Garona’s character wasn’t established very well.
Draenei are a more peaceful people who also lived in the world that the orcs destroyed, and you only see them briefly at the beginning of the film. Otherwise, the movie gives no explanation of what these creatures are or what they have to do with the Warcraft story aside from being fuel for Gul-dan’s portal. Garona does have a small interaction with a draenei at the beginning where the viewer learns that she can speak their language. This is because Garona’s mother, who was taken prisoner by the orcs and forced to produce a half-breed child, was a draenei. The orcs’ plan in doing this was to create a powerful warrior that had the martial strength of the orcs and the arcane strength of the draenei so they could force Garona to assassinate their enemies by speaking trigger words that would put her under their control.
Right there, we have a huge characterization point that would drive Garona to work against the Horde. However, the movie glosses over these major points of Garona’s character and drops in just a few subtle bits of dialogue touching on the subject that, sadly, only Warcraft fans would know. One of these quotes would be that Garona’s name means “cursed.” This obviously has to do with how she’s cursed to assassinate on command. Of course, Garona isn’t just going to tell people that she can be controlled to kill people, but maybe, at some point in the movie, they could have shown it.
Other than that, I think they did a decent job of characterizing Garona. Her presence in the story also opened a lot of doors for having intense, dramatic scenes that I feel the writers ignored. While there were some good moments, there were other moments that I felt could have been much better with better writing.
Medivh: more than meets the eye
Compared to Garona, I find Medivh’s characterization to be slightly better. He’s depicted as a wise and respected mage who is beginning to have problems with controlling his power. However, with this being my first time of seeing Medivh, I had to lean over and ask my boyfriend what a “Guardian” is. The fact that I didn’t know from the movie what the gravity of a Guardian’s role in Azeroth is meant that, surely, viewers from outside the story also wouldn’t.
I’m not saying that the movie needs to beat viewers over the head with exposition to get them to appreciate how important Medivh is and why the other characters turned to him in desperate times, but providing some background and building the character’s relevance is the job of the writers, no matter how they choose to do it. Now, a Guardian in Azeroth is the embodiment of magic and helps maintain the balance of magic in the world. The Guardian is more than just a simple, human mage. Now, I would say that’s pretty darn important in the context of this story. However, the writers gloss over these important points which takes away from the huge relevance of Medivh’s character.
Exposition in Warcraft
When it comes to flaws in the Warcraft movie’s exposition, I am going to keep it simple because I have already touched on how the lack of exposition through characterization takes away from the film. I will add that, overall, the Warcraft movie does a poor job at bringing newcomers into the world by not giving them the information they need to become invested in the story. Again, I find it important that, in telling any story, writers don’t beat viewers over the head with exposition. However, there is a way to bring viewers up-to-speed without bogging them down with historical details, and Lord of the Rings’ opening scene is a perfect example of how do so with elegance.
While the movie does a decent job with exposition in relation to the current events of the film, the revelation of the events which led up to the opening of the Dark Portal and the war between orcs and humans is completely absent. For Warcraft players, this isn’t a huge issue because most of them are already familiar with the timeline. However, this is a major shortcoming for the general audience who have never experienced the story and know nothing of this universe or the races that inhabit it.
The biggest plot point that is missing from the Warcraft movie is the influence of Sargeras, who is a major villain of the Warcraft universe and is responsible for just about every bad thing that happens in Azeroth, including the orc invasion depicted in the Warcraft film. Sargeras was once a titan and part of a Pantheon responsible for maintaining the universe. However, Sargeras turned against the other titans and became their enemy. Also known as “The Destroyer of Worlds,” Sargeras is drawn to worlds that become corrupted by power and he brings these worlds to destruction. While it would seem from the movie that Gul-dan is the big bad guy, the influence of Sargeras is what led Gul-dan down his dark path and resulted in the destruction of Draenor. It’s also by his influence that orcs target Azeroth and, spoiler alert: Medivh lets them in. The only point in which the movie somewhat implies that there is a greater power leading to the corruption of these leaders is when someone mentions that something has been “whispering” to Medivh. As a fan in the audience, I knew immediately that they were talking about Sargeras. Otherwise, I would have no clue what it meant.
Now, to these points, others may counter that the character perspective doesn’t offer itself to this kind of revelation. The characters don’t know yet that Sargeras exists and is causing all this chaos, so how would they reveal it? The solution to this is simple: Medivh most certainly knows because Sargeras is whispering to him! Right there, you have window for seeing what’s really going on, and the writers didn’t use it. As a fan, I am very disappointed that they did not take the opportunity to jump into Medivh’s head and show this. It would have made for a beautiful, dramatic moment and would have made the film that much more engaging for outsiders. To put it into perspective, imagine The Fellowship of the Ring without any mention of Sauron, and the only bad guy you got to see at the beginning was Saruman. That is basically what’s going on here with Warcraft‘s storytelling, and it’s very frustrating for someone who wants to see people outside of the fandom get excited about the movie, too.
Despite these flaws in the film, I can still say that it’s worth going to see. There are still some really great moments in the movie and the visual effects are fantastic. However, for those of you who aren’t already fans of the Warcraft franchise, you might want to fill yourself in on the Warcraft lore before you go see it. Don’t worry about spoiling the movie for yourself, because, as I was disappointed to learn, it was made for people who already know the story.