Warcraft is a language you don’t speak, a code you can’t crack, a party you weren’t invited to. In many ways, it is the logical landing place for the recent trend in making movies that must, before all else, please an existing fanbase. It makes sense to them, I assume, but is absolutely impenetrable to anyone else. I do not know a thing about World of the Warcraft, the role-playing video game, how or true this film is to that’s games basic structure or plot mechanisms. But I know that, having never played it, I am absolutely baffled as to what this film is going on about. You know those guides they sell at GameSpot to help guide you through the labyrinthine, almost infinite worlds of the games? I needed one of those at my side throughout Warcraft. I needed a full Wiki.
One of the many irritating aspects of Warcraft is that it plunges you into its world without much care or concern. There is no nod to newcomers, the movie just starts: orcs, humans, griffins (I think), and a stray elf or two, begin talking in a stilted cadence about even more creatures you haven’t yet met. Good movies mete out information carefully, trusting that if you don’t quite get what’s going on, you’ll catch up as you go along. Warcraft betrays that trust, never establishing much of anything. You’ll constantly feel like you walked in late. I don’t remember the last time I was so utterly mystified by what was unspooling in front of me.
Still, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t missing much. From what I could decipher, Warcraft is would-be Tolkien rubbish, a mishmash of smarter, more expansive fantasy worlds that mistakes humorlessness for gravity. Let’s see how much of the plot I decoded ends up accurate: There are some orcs—muscular, computer-generated beings with tusks and considerable facial swelling—who are perpetually at war with humans, and then there is a of knockoff of Tolkien’s One Ring called “The Fell.” There’s one nice orc, one nice human, some kings, a couple wizards, and goblin maybe? I’m not trying to be flip here: This movie is so nonsensical that you find yourself simply adding up the creatures you can recognize and seeing what that gets you. Maybe math will help?
The cast looks as confused as I was. The human characters are drawn so poorly that I’m still not sure the main character, as played by an Australian actor I’d never seen before wasn’t in fact a computer effect. Ben Foster is maybe the most recognizable name in the cast—fans of AMC’s Preacher will note that Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both so charismatic on that show, pop up occasionally here before smartly hiding—and he justifies this status by overacting within an inch of his life while still somehow drowsily winking at the camera. Director Duncan Jones has made two good movies before this— Moon and Source Code—but he is completely unmoored here. He seems to have lost any connection to actors, or recognizable motivations, or even basic story structure.
The extreme terribleness of Warcraft is enough to make one existential about the purpose of movies. If a film like this, one so specifically geared to an extremely narrow group of people, is successful, why would anyone ever try to appeal to a larger audience at all? If our tastes in music and literature have become so become niche and segmented, splintered into an infinite smattering of interest groups without even a nod to a universally shared experience, why should movies be any different? If movies have become fan service, then why service anyone but the fans? I am sure, as evidenced by the existence of this movie, that there are people who care about Warcraft very deeply. I truly, sincerely hope this movie satisfies whatever itch they feel needed scratching. But for the rest of us? This is utter nonsense. I’m not still not exactly sure what in the hell Warcraft was supposed to be. I just know I desperately wanted to go home.