Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

aka Warcraft

2017 #38
Duncan Jones | 118 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, China, Canada & Japan / English | 12 / PG-13

Warcraft: The Beginning

Produced by Legendary — one of the companies behind the Dark Knight trilogy, Jurassic World, Godzilla, and many other massive hits — the only thing that’s “legendary” about the Warcraft movie is how terrible it is.

Based on the long-running video game franchise, Warcraft (optimistically retitled Warcraft: The Beginning in many territories) is, based on what I’ve read, less an adaptation of the game (which has many different incarnations anyhow) and more an expansion of its universe. Rather than take the game itself and try to mush it into the shape of a movie, as most video game adaptations are forced to do, Warcraft depicts some of the game-world’s backstory, taking care to keep events canonical. I’m sure this is brilliant for fans and players, but I wonder if it’s part of why the film feels muddled and tacky to those of us who are uninitiated. Of course, at its best such efforts can make newcomers want to learn more; but at its worst it leaves you feeling confused and shut out. Warcraft is definitely a case of the latter.

It plays like a $160 million fan film. It doesn’t bother with world-building, just throwing the viewer in at the deep end. That can work, but it needs to be carefully managed. Warcraft just ploughs ahead, going deeper and deeper. It’s been made for people who know this world, its places, its people, its concepts, its rules. The film is a prequel to something that doesn’t exist — or, rather, something that doesn’t exist as a movie. And yet, for all co-writer/director Duncan Jones’ efforts to remain faithful, apparently it’s not faithful enough for some of the hardcore. It seems the movie has wound up in a place where it’s not stuck to the backstory enough to please initiated fans, but not opened itself up enough to be accessible to newcomers either.

This could get orcward

Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there. Characters’ personalities change from one scene to the next, with no sense of development or connection. Many of the performances are stilted or clumsy, with a good deal of the actors feeling miscast. Scenes exist in isolation, with little sense they should follow what was before or precede what comes after. It feels like it was heavily messed around in post — not just stuff chopped out (reportedly Jones’ director’s cut was 40 minutes longer), but things moved around within the story — but then something will happen that suggests those scenes were always meant to be where they are. Whatever the cause, it makes it even harder to follow a story that already feels like it’s shutting out newcomers.

The biggest shame is that you can see glimmers of potential — mainly in the world itself, which is clearly quite thoroughly realised (presumably thanks to having been developed over many, many years of the games’ existence). But then, the story that takes place within that world isn’t an especially original or interesting one. Or, rather, I don’t think it is. I mean, it’s hard to tell what precisely is going on half the time.

A lot of the technical merits are strong, too. Almost every shot is loaded with CGI, but the vast majority of it looks pretty incredible. It’s no wonder some bits come up short, however, because the sheer volume of different locations, creatures, and spell effects is mind-boggling. Obviously some parts are going to suffer when you bite off more than you can chew. If there’s a problem here it might be that the design work is quite “high fantasy” — it’s all exaggerated and almost cartoony, as opposed to the more realistic take of something like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. That’s not to everyone’s taste; indeed, it might be part of why such fantasy tales used to be (and, often, still are) such a niche market.

Totally realistic costumes

Talking of the market, reports say Warcraft needed to gross $450m just to break even. In the US, it took $47.4m. No, I didn’t put the decimal in the wrong place. And that’s not opening weekend, that’s in total. It was a big hit in China, but that wasn’t enough: worldwide it managed just shy of $434m (which, fact fans, makes it one of only two American movies to gross over $400m without making $100m in the US (the other was Terminator Genisys)). Jones had plans for sequels (he’s shared them on Twitter, which naturally got turned into news articles, if you’re interested), but, yeah, they’re not happening. Thank goodness the Chinese didn’t give it another few million, because this project already feels like a waste of five years of the director’s promising career. You could see Jones as currently being on a similar path to that previously trodden by the likes of M. Night Shyamalan and Neill Blomkamp: a hugely successful debut followed by increasingly poor, eventually terrible films. Hopefully his next movie, Mute (available exclusively on Netflix from today), will rectify that.

2 out of 5

Warcraft: The Beginning featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

The Ghostly Monthly Update for March 2017

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna call?

How about Scarlett Johansson in a skintight bodysuit? I’m sure plenty of people wouldn’t need something strange going on to want to make that call…


#30 Logan (2017)
#31 Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
#32 Demolition (2015)
#32a Deadpool: No Good Deed (2017)
#33 Long Way North (2015), aka Tout en haut du monde
#34 Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
#34a Hotel Chevalier (2007)
#35 The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
#36 Money Monster (2016)
#37 Room (2015)
#38 Warcraft (2016), aka Warcraft: The Beginning
#39 Kong: Skull Island (2017)
#40 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
#41 Ghostbusters (2016), aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call
#42 Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
#43 The Monster Squad (1987)
#44 Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), aka Kôkaku Kidôtai Inosensu
#45 Big Game (2014)
#46 Young Frankenstein (1974)
#47 Black Dynamite (2009)
#48 Ghost in the Shell (2017)
#49 Jackie Brown (1997)
Long Way North

Kong: Skull Island

Black Dynamite

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  • I watched 20 new films this March, making it my largest month for nearly a year, since last April’s 21.
  • It’s far head of the March average (previously 12.3, now 13.1) and also passes the average of the last 12 months (previously 15, now 14.75).
  • In terms of my yearly goal, it’s behind where I was last year (two-thirds there at #67) but ahead of every other year (including 2015 — aka The Year of 200 Films — when March ended at #44).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: plugging one of the few gaps in my Tarantino viewing with Jackie Brown.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Room. Normally I’d offer a brief comment, but I already reviewed it in full here.
  • I watched three films starring Samuel L. Jackson this month. Even for a fella as prolific as he is, that’s still quite a number.



The 22nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A tough contest this month between a couple of films I enjoyed an awful lot, but however much I was entertained by a giant ape beating up other giant monsters, the beautiful artistry of Long Way North just edges it today.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Not such a tricky choice here: easily the worst film I watched this month was the disappointing mess that was Warcraft.

Best Dialogue of the Month
You’d think any month with a Quentin Tarantino film in it would have this award sewn up, but not when in the presence of the genius that is Black Dynamite. I’d throw in a quote, but half of the magic is in the delivery.

Most Gratuitous Arse of the Month
Plenty of derrières on display this month, between Natalie Portman’s much-discussed bare behind in Hotel Chevalier, Scarlett Johansson’s extremely figure-hugging costumes in Ghost in the Shell, Bridget Fonda’s post-coital stroll in Jackie Brown, and Kong stomping around the place with nary a stitch on as well. But the fact someone bothered to draw the intimation of an arsehole on the dog in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence takes the biscuit.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Following a tip from Caz at Let’s Go to the Movies, I’ve been adding my reviews to IMDb of late. That paid dividends this month, with an extraordinary (for me) number of hits flowing towards Logan.



This blog’s 10th birthday celebrations continued (and concluded) this month by counting down my 100 favourite movies I’ve seen for the first time in the past ten years. If you missed it, you can read all about it here:


Things are beginning to look up for my Rewatchathon, as I actually rewatched more than one film this month…

#3 Gattaca (1997)
#4 The Nice Guys (2016)
#5 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)
#6 Ghost in the Shell (1995)
#7 Hook (1991)

I think I was too young to properly appreciate Gattaca when I first saw it. Now, I think it’s a five-star sci-fi drama/thriller, and it would’ve contended for a place on my 100 Favourites if I’d got this rewatch in a couple of years ago.

Truth be told, I only watched the first 15 minutes of Power Rangers (then my NOW TV subscription ended and it cut me off), so I probably shouldn’t count it… but I would’ve found another way to finish it if those 15 minutes hadn’t been utterly terrible, so I say it still counts because I’d clearly seen enough.

This was the first time I’d watched Hook since childhood and, a few moments and images aside, I barely remembered it at all. It has things going for it (the sets are incredible and many of the special effects are fantastic), but it’s definitely the worst Spielberg movie I’ve seen (1941 still awaits…)


A big year for the MCU kicks off: I’ll be reviewing Iron Fist, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes to the big screen (over here, at least).