I begin with a quick review. I consider myself a Warcraft fan – not a World of Warcraft fan, mind you (nothing against the people who love it – MMOs just are not for me). I grew up with the first three games and loved each of them. Warcraft II might be one of my favorite video games of all time, if only for its vivid art style:
So yeah, I love the Warcraft games, I love fantasy, I’m also a fan of Duncan Jones (especially Moon) … with all that, I still did not like Warcraft. For the record, this is not one of the worst movies of the year – the film actually features quite a bit that works. In terms of video game movies, this would probably be in my top three… although I think that speaks far more to the sub-par nature of video game adaptations.
There are things to like in Warcraft, unfortunately there is just a lot more to dislike. One of the main weaknesses I took away from the film was the orc protagonist, Durotan. Warning: spoilers to follow.
Durotan (played well by Toby Kebbell) is fun to look at. The effects that bring the orc chieftain to life are nothing short of impressive. Sadly, he’s a lot less compelling to listen to, and to follow as a main character. What makes Durotan a failure is his complete lack of any real emotional arc. He begins and ends the film with little change to who he is.
At the beginning of the film, Durotan is a lesser chieftain (I think, the movie does not have time to fully explain orc hierarchy) taking orders from bigger, badder orc, Blackhand. Blackhand in turn listens to Gul’dan, a powerful orc death knight/mage/shaman/warlock/whatever, who is leading the orc horde to a new land to conquer.
Durotan doesn’t think much of Gul’dan’s ominous green glow, and fears that the horde are being lead to disaster. Being a new father, all he wants is for a peaceful home where he can raise his family.
Fast-forward to the end of the movie and Durotan’s views remain… largely unchanged. The only real differences are that he thinks even less of Gul’dan, and that he is now slightly dead.
For the record, Durotan succeeds at being sympathetic, and it is refreshing to have a main orc in a movie who isn’t all about ending the age of men. Yet in choosing such a static protagonist for the orc perspective, Duncan Jones’ movie features a lot of scenes essentially consisting of either:
“I don’t trust Gul’dan.”
“I want to save our people!”
That’s pretty much the orc narrative right there. Roughly one half of a two-hour movie is that.
What makes it even more tragic is that it feels like there was a much more interesting protagonist standing next to Durotan in most of the orc scenes. From what I remember, Ogrim Doomhammer was a pretty big deal in the first two Warcraft games – but let’s forget that and just go by what happens in the movie.
Ogrim (played by Robert Kazinsky) starts the movie as a friend to Durotan, but not so set in the “I just want to raise my family” mindset. He doesn’t have the open confrontations with Blackhand or Gul’dan. Indeed, for most of the movie seems to be making up his mind whether to side with his friend or side with the Horde.
This results in Ogrim going so far as to betray Durotan’s efforts for peace, selling out his friend’s meeting location with the humans. This results in Durotan’s tribe being slaughtered or captured by Gul’dan, with Durotan’s family (so far as he knows) becoming victims themselves. Sure, Ogrim says he got them out… this seems enough for Durotan (we the audience know that the family escaped to set up sequels)… but emotionally, it is really weak.
How more interesting would it have been to place the perspective behind Ogrim, to have a leader with a friend saying one thing and his warchief saying another? Perhaps Jones thought this would mirror the human plot too much, but the human plot is much more dynamic than the orc one. Since Durotan’s mind never changes, the nature of the orc scenes never changes.
More than that, it feels like the most interesting story at present was sacrificed for the main story later. What would have been lost in making Durotan a side character? It seems like the sole motivation for placing Durotan in the protagonist seat had to do with his son, Thrall, who becomes a major character later on in the story.
This plays to dangerous thinking that seems to be taking over Hollywood blockbusters: sacrifice the story now for payoff later. The danger is that if the audience never cares, the payoff will never come.
Is Thrall important – sure. But how does this sound for a climax: Ogrim, believing his friend’s entire family and clan has been killed – largely thanks to his actions – now sees the Horde for what it is and challenges Gul’dan’s position for leader of the Horde.
Ogrim’s challenge of Gul’dan is in the movie… but it goes nowhere in one of the most awkward and anti-climactic sequences that I have seen in recent memory. Ogrim throws down the gauntlet, challenges Gul’dan… and nothing happens. Gul’dan kills a few unnamed orcs to show he will tolerate no rebellion – except for Ogrim apparently. Maybe he likes Ogrim?
Bottom line is that, despite Durotan being a main character, he really makes no impact on the actions and plot in the movie. The peace talks go nowhere, and Thrall is left to an incredibly pretentious baby Moses sequence. Durotan dies and the Horde just keeps right on its path. Nothing happens, nothing changes – except for Ogrim walking off alone at the end of the movie (another serving of sequel setup anyone?).
Storytelling 101: choose a main character to suit the story, or vice versa. Durotan probably did more interesting things in his life, but the audience never sees them. The result leaves a main character who feels like little more than setup in a movie that desperately needed substance to power its heart.