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Will ‘Warcraft’ Break the Video Game Movie Curse?

This summer, a film by the name of Warcraft will be hitting theaters. You may be familiar with this brand through its classic real-time strategy games for the PC in the ’90s and early 2000s, or more likely through the massive-multiplayer online game World of WarCraft. But you may be wondering why either of those things are worth making a movie about. Video game films are almost universally cash-ins that fail to translate what fans like about a property to a linear three-act medium. So why bother with a Warcraft at all?

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The story is deceptively simple. Lordaeron, a kingdom on the world of Azeroth, is invaded by a race of large hulking brutes called Orcs. The Orcs are fleeing their home-world of Drainer — having devastated the world so much that it is no longer habitable — through an inter-dimensional portal. The humans of Lordaeron now must stand up to stop this encroaching menace before they destroy all they hold dear. Pretty simple, yeah? Standard Tolkien-lite stuff. But there’s more to it than first meets the eye.

The Orcs weren’t always quite what they are now. They were a warlike but fairly peaceful nomadic people who communed with the spirits of nature and their ancestors, but a malefic presence has tricked them into becoming blood-hungry savages intent on pillaging everything in their path. Durotan (portrayed in the film by Toby Kebbell) has avoided the influence of this evil being along with several other splinter groups and they’re intent on saving their people from the Faustian nightmare they’ve become. Further muddling matters is the same evil presence corrupting a few key members on the humans’ side.

What makes Warcraft special is that, beyond the Lovecraftian demons which are pulling the strings in the back, there are no “good” or “bad” guys. The series depicts a multi-faceted narrative that spans decades and various sides of an ever-growing and ever-changing conflict.

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From the trailer material we’ve seen so far, it’s clear that the filmmakers have taken great pains to paint the Orcs as sympathetic in spite of it all. Contrast this to the orcs of Middle-earth, the orks of Warhammer 40,000, or various other settings. The similarities to other fantasy properties seems like a weakness, but it’s actually a boon. Warcraft takes that familiar set-up and turns it on its head, showing that the gallant humans are a bit more corrupt than they appear and the evil monsters are a lot more sympathetic. This sort of narrative is rarely used in fiction at all but in the world of fantasy, where “good” and “bad” are generally painted with fairly broad strokes, this is revolutionary. The fact that Legendary Pictures brought Blizzard Entertainment’s Chris Metzen (de-facto creator of the series and its lore) on to work on the story and Duncan Jones (of Moon and Source Code) on to direct remains a comfort that they’re going to get this one right.

But that’s just the potential this Warcraft movie has. If the film does well then the options for sequels are limitless. Azeroth is a huge world full of various races, factions, heroes, villains and stories. A story can be told within this world with whatever scope a writer could want whether it be a simple soldier or an immortal demi-god. There’s decades of in-world stories to explore with various wars and lineages (the baby Orc viewed briefly in the trailer will grow up to be very important) that make up the rich tapestry that is Warcraft.

So show up on June 10 to see Warcraft. Maybe you’ll see another damp squib of a video game/epic fantasy movie that tried something different, but maybe you’ll see the birth of cinema’s next great franchise.

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