Good god...it happened...WARCRAFT!
Intermediate Spoilers Ahead
So, after decades of development hell, Warcraft finally sees life on the big screen.
I feel I must be very succinct here and state, for the record, in spite of the tags, this movie is NOT based on "World of Warcraft" (though there are many easter eggs to that game in it). This is an adaptation of "Warcraft: Orcs vs Human", which was the first game in the Warcraft franchise of which WoW is the most recent representative.
And one thing that I should have expected going into this film that I didn't, and it was somewhat of a punch in the gut, is this: The story is about the beginning of a conflict explicitly stated to be raging many many years later - don't expect a happy ending for anyone or for any peace-making plan to go well.
In a way, that's one part where the film does itself a disservice. I recall my first viewing of "The Fellowship of the Ring" and hearing two fellow theatre-goers exclaim what a terrible ending it had. Except that it was clearly not the ending, the other two books in the trilogy (which was only a trilogy because the publisher wanted to save paper rather than ship out many copies of the single volume) were very famously being made concurrently. Warcraft's ending also isn't the ending of the story, as we definitely have the events of "Warcraft II" and "Warcraft III", not to mention WoW and its multiple expansions. But here's the thing - in this case, those other movies aren't guarenteed, so the movie's lack of self-sustain risked it becoming another "Golden Compass" - of which the inevitable sequels were never made because they didn't make it clear enough to filmgoers that they were in the wings in the first place.
Thank god for China.
The studio also didn't do it any favors by cutting roughly 40 minutes behind director Zowie Bowie - err, sorry - I mean Duncan Jones' back. This is the kind of thing George Lucas was fighting against and you all called him "power mad". While the theatrical cut didn't bother me, I do feel that some of the more understandable criticisms about pacing and development for some characters would probably have been alleviated by that extra footage, but time and the the Director's Cut will tell on that.
So, what of the film that we got? I think you can probably guess, but I loved it. I loved it thoroughly, and it's one of the only movies in the last decade or so that I've had a chance to see multiple times in theaters (alongside The Dark Knight and the first two Hobbit films). While I won't say it's perfect, it's still a damn good film for both its genre and its origin.
It's pretty obvious now, but the CGI in this film is amazing. It's definitely the next step in the evolutionary ladder for amazing CGI work and believable CGI characters (that ladder is, for the record: Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Dragonheart, The Phantom Menace, The Two Towers, Avatar, An Unexpected Journey, and Warcraft as setting polished CG benchmarks - and I'll defend each film's place there). And it doesn't hurt that all of the Orc characters were the best realized and best acted in the entire film. The only one that even comes close to being generic is Clancy Brown as Blackhand, but then again it's Clancy Brown. As Blackhand. He could phone it in and it would still be great.
Perhaps my favorite scene in the entire movie is of Durotan and Draka (Toby Kebbell and Anna Galvin respectively) in the very beginning of the film, just having the kind of conversation any expecting married couple would have before a huge event, except in this fantasy environment as these fantasy creatures. They one of if not the most believable on-screen couple I have ever seen in the history of cinema, and that's saying something.
But I disagree with the notion that the human actors were "bad". They were not nearly as good as the Orcs, and they do suffer in comparison, but they still give adequate at worst performances for the kinds of characters they are and the kind of movie it is. They played the parts they had to play, and played them well. I was most impressed with the mages: Ben Schnetzer as a still-green (pun intended) Khadgar and Ben Foster as the stoic but troubled Medivh. Speaking of mages, I am suitably impressed by the way casting spells is portrayed in this film. It's unlike anything I've seen in movies before, and I got a huge kick out of it.
Finally, what makes this film so good to me is the very real way it portrays war and conflict as just a series of misunderstandings causing people to do things that make other people upset and retaliate that causes the first set to retaliate harder, where rational folks are silenced by insane zealots. The Orcs are honorable if rough, and just want to survive and find a home - and are easily riled by the idea of victory in battle. The Humans are generally noble and want peace in their lands, but they lack nuance and are quick to prejudice.
And Gul'Dan is just an asshole.
And in spite of what people have been saying for years, Thrall is not "Green Jesus" - he's clearly "Green Moses."
While die-hard Warcraft fans (at least, the ones who are reasonable and not prone to the Mainstream Geekdom thing of complaining about everything because people have different ideas than you) will get the most out of this film, it's welcoming enough to a general audience of Warcraft newbies that most people who would be into fantasy-style movies will at least like it fine if not enjoy it immensely.