Video game fans are hoping the endless parade of crap adaptations of their favorite games will cease this December with the promising-looking Assassin’s Creed. Quite frankly, with the deep source material, plot, and Oscar-caliber acting in that film, if it doesn’t work, we’re never going to get one that will. Warcraft, looked like it might break the curse six months earlier. It had a great look, a HUGE built-in fanbase, and an acclaimed director in Duncan Jones (Moon). Instead the movie was critically reviled (28% on Rotten Tomatoes), and would have been an utter financial disaster were it not for a very strange phenomenon that we’ll get to later. Now that the film has hit home video, is Warcraft worth a look? It’s definitely worth a LOOK (note how I am stressing that word as if it will be important later on in my rambling).
You have to say this for Blizzard Entertainment: they don’t make a lot of games, but they don’t ever make bombs. Essentially they’ve released three major titles in the last 20 years, mostly for PC gaming: Warcraft (which lead to World of Warcraft), StarCraft, and Overwatch, which was their first console game. Released earlier this year, it’s likely going to win most Game of the Year awards based on reviews. So they’re brilliant at creating a game which can become a universe that sucks players in for years. World of Warcraft, is a MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) in which you quest live with other people in the magical land of Azeroth. Every few years, Blizzard will release a new expansion to the game and it has millions of players globally. It’s easily one of the most successful video games of all-time. The problem with Warcraft the movie is, it was made exclusively for the people who play the game.
Azeroth is a land that has a TON of story behind it by this point. Warcraft could have been milking stories in that land for decades, but instead of using the film to familiarize the billions of people who do NOT play WoW (World of Warcraft), it dumps you into a story that’s aimed exclusively at hardcore players of the game. No foundation is built for the casual moviegoer as to what this fantasy world is about, how it works, what are the rules, things that The Lord of the Rings did brilliantly in an eight minute prologue to Fellowship of the RIng. I am a hardcore gamer. I play a LOT of video games, though not WoW (more out of fear it would consume my life wholesale). I have a better-than-average understanding of Azeroth and the dynamic between the races and so on, and the plot of this film just lost me. It’s not that it’s terribly complex. The Orc homeworld is dying so they open a portal into Azeroth and start smashing humans CAN THERE BE PEACE????? It’s that everything involved with that plot is phrased in terms of WoW inside baseball, and the acting in the film (with the exception of Ben Foster and Toby Kebbel) is not good enough that you want to do homework and find out what this or that meant. That’s not my biggest beef with the plot, that I will save for the end and it is a minor spoiler so be warned. But let’s talk about what is extremely good in the film: it is eye candy galore.
This film is freaking stunning. If you’re a fantasy nut, this is just stuff you’ve always wanted to see. Huge orcs that are photo-real (except for Draka…why is every Orc looking spectacular and they leave one character that’s a CGI eyesore) smashing things with warhammers, knights flying to floating cities on gryphons, stunning magic from mages (the Orc mage was the most visually stunning thing in the film), and giant battles. You could put the thing on mute and just enjoy looking at it. If that sort of thing tickles your giblets, then Warcraft is worth renting because it deserves a F/X Oscar nod. If it weren’t for The Jungle Book, I’d say it’s the best F/X film of the year. However, at the end of the day the F/X are the only memorable part of this film which (and bail now if you don’t want a spoiler) is NOT A COMPLETE FILM! It’s an episode. It’s clearly intended to start a giant franchise and nothing is left resolved at the end of the film with any permanence. I hate that kind of arrogance when there’s no product to back it up. But we may yet get a Warcraft sequel because of the most bizarre box office break-even/minor profit story in a long time. I’ll let Forbes break down the business of it:
Now that the release is nearly complete, we can take a little stock in just what the heck happened with Warcraft. The movie has played out around the world, and its current $430.1 million global cume is pretty close to where it will finish. It has been a weird run for the Legendary/Blizzard/Atlas/Universal production, as the $160 million picture mostly flopped around the world only to make a killing in China. It earned a record-crushing 89% of its money outside of North America. In the end, Warcraft is something of a wash. It grossed a lot, but it didn’t make money, and it utterly failed at its intended purpose.
Like a number of big-budget movies opening these days, Warcraft had two specific goals. First of all, it had to make money. And on that scale, it is indeed a failure, albeit less of one than many of us presumed once upon a time. Even with a whopping $220 million in China, which amounted to over half of the film’s $430m worldwide cume, the $160m production is still a slight money loser (around $15m so says The Hollywood Reporter). The film made around 2.675x its production budget (not including marketing costs), which means it may break even down in post-theatrical. But it is not a breakout smash hit by any definition. Investors don’t throw money into big budget movies to just break even.
If not for the miraculous business in China, this would have been a disaster for all parties. Yes, the film earned $220.8 million in China alone, which makes it one of the bigger release ever in said territory and the sixth-biggest Hollywood import behind Zootopia, Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Transformers: Age of Extinction, andFurious 7. But, even in China, its legs were painfully short. It earned almost all of that money ($156m) in the first five days of release, with $91m (41%) coming just in the first 48 hours. It played to fans of the game while alienating (or failing to capture the interest in the first place) of general audiences. That’s arguably what happened around the world ($162.5m not including China) as well as North America.
Warcraft marks perhaps a watershed moment in film, where the US box office is not even the center of a film’s target audience. Or it could be a fluke. Either way, it’s possible there will be a Warcraft 2, but I doubt Duncan Jones is willing to sink another four years into it, and it undoubtedly will have a smaller budget which will undercut the visuals, which is the only thing working here. They work so well, and I’m such a fantasy nerd, I almost want to give it the tiniest of positive scores, but I can’t. This just isn’t the film that gamers long for to bring the stories we play over to the big screen.