Jacob's Dungeons & Dragons Group Reviews 'Warcraft'

When Warcraft opened last week, the big screen adaptation of Blizzard's opeugely popular fantasy franchise was greeted with scathing reviews from critics and lackluster box office from domestic audiences. For many viewers, director Duncan Jones' high fantasy epic of orcs and wizards and magic and war was dead on arrival. Normal people, it seemed weren't interested in this movie or its world. It was too outlandish, too nerdy, too inscrutable.

However, every movie deserves a fair shake and I decided the best way to approach Warcraft would be to view it through the lens of the nerdiest people I know, the people who would be most open to what this movie was selling. If my Dungeons & Dragons group couldn't embrace Warcraft, who would?

So I gathered my fellow adventurers at the local tavern to chat about this divisive film and it turns out that even people who spend hours going on fantastical adventures that only exist on paper and in dry erase marker were also thoroughly divided. Here's our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. Each participant is identified by their D&D character class and race (I'm the human rogue, for the record) and we get into major spoilers.

Roll For Initiative

Human Rogue: What was everyone's experience with Warcraft before the movie? Did you know know anything all all?

Tiefling Barbarian: I knew nothing about Warcraft before going in and watching it. I mean, I knew that it existed because it's a worldwide phenomenon but it's not anything that I've played.

Half-Elf Ranger: I have never played Warcraft. Most of my experience with Warcraft is that South Park episode.

Tiefling Barbarian: That's true. I did know about the South Park episode.

Drow Warlock: I've played the three originals. I've played World of Warcraft, but not extensively or at a high level or anything. Just little bits here and there. I have Warcraft figures and stuff in my house. I've read some of the novels.

Human Rogue: So you're more of the target audience for this than anyone else at this table?

Drow Warlock: Yeah, yeah.

Elf Sorcerer: I have no experience with it other than the many Blizzard boxes and models at our house. [Ed. note: Drow Warlock and Elf Sorcerer are married.]

The Fog of War(craft)

Human Rogue: How confused was everyone by this movie? How did you feel around, oh, minute twenty or so?

Tiefling Barbarian: At minute twenty, I felt like I could still follow the basic gist of what was going on, but I didn't know about or care about any of the characters. I knew names and I approximately what they were trying to do and why, but it made no difference to me because there was no character build-up.

Human Rogue: You're nodding your head, Elf Sorcerer.

Elf Sorcerer: Yeah. Well, the characters could have been more fleshed out. I still can't tell you the names of the characters. Drow Warlock tried to teach me the names but the only thing I remember is that there is a Gryphon and I liked it.

Human Rogue: Half-Elf Ranger, were you confused?

Half-Elf Ranger: Yes, but not from a...the narrative you could follow, but they just throw stuff at you and you're left on your own to determine what's important and what's not. The story isn't helping you at all to tell you, "this is important and this isn't." For example, they go through about four different locations at the beginning but you don't know what any of them are. At first, old boy is at Ironforge, which doesn't mean anything to me and we never go back to Ironforge, so I don't know why we were there in the first place.

Human Rogue: So [Lothar] can get a gun?

Half-Elf Ranger: Suuure?

Tiefling Barbarian: Oh, you mean a boomstick?

Half-Elf Ranger: And they make a big deal out of the phrase "From lightness comes darkness and from darkness comes light" but it doesn't have any bearing on the plot. Even at the end, the lady in the tesseract box tells the guy [Khadgar] to remember it and it doesn't have any effect on the film.

Human Rogue: Drow Warlock, you're the expert here. Inform the group – who was the weird lady in the box?

Drow Warlock: Oh, I don't know. Then again, my knowledge...the story of Warcraft is very long. Very long. Like, the story that happens for the most part in this movie is contained to the game that came out in 1991 of 1992 or something. Everything that has happened since then is not in this movie. There's a lot. I've played five percent of World of Warcraft, so I don't know most of the story. I know this story well because I've known this story since I was a kid, but I don't know who that character is. Somebody might say "Oh, it was this person who was this and this," but off the top of my head, I don't know who that was.

Human Rogue: Since you're familiar with the source material, did you think that people who were unfamiliar with the games would be baffled by this? Did you get that impression?

Drow Warlock: I didn't. Tiefling Barbarian was saying she was confused by stuff, but for me, I think my brain was filling in gaps because I knew things and I didn't realize until now that they weren't explicitly saying things that I was just filling in.

Half-Elf Ranger: For example–

Tiefling Barbarian: For example.

Half-Elf Ranger: We were talking about why they didn't just use a blue portal the whole time if Med...Meddie?

Drow Warlock: Medivh.

Half-Elf Ranger: Medivh. If he could create a blue portal without having to kill anybody, why didn't they just do that from the beginning? Why did they have to fuck around with green portals? And Drow Warlock was like "Well, the blue portal was within Azeroth and the green portal went beyond to another world." The movie does say that the orcs came from another world so we do know that part, but you don't get to the blue portal until the very end and it's never explained.

The Inevitable Comparison

Human Rogue: This is probably the comparison that nobody who made the movie wants us to make, but look at Lord of the Rings. The original three movies. Tolkien is just as dense and complicated as the Warcraft lore, but those movies ease you into the lore in a way that allows you to be comfortable and understand what's going on. This movie just tosses you in. It feels unfair.

Drow Warlock: That's the biggest problem with the movie. I think it should be an hour longer. I think there's probably a three-hour cut of the movie that probably still has character problems and things like that, but eases you into things and doesn't just put you in a location for a few seconds and then crossfade to the next location and then crossfade to the next location. I think there's a longer version that won't be Peter Jackson quality, but spends more time in locations and more time explaining things and more time with characters. I hope. I know an extended cut exists because Duncan Jones responded to a tweet where somebody asked if there would be an extended cut and he said it depended on well the movie did.

Half-Elf Ranger: So good luck with that.

Drow Warlock: It's actually doing incredibly well. Just not in the U.S.

Human Rogue: China.

Drow Warlock: And the production company, Legendary, was bought by a Chinese company, so they're getting a larger portion of the profits from China than a movie normally would. I think, I hope...I want to see a three-hour version of the movie.

Tiefling Barbarian: Uuuuuugggghhhh.

Drow Warlock: I think it would be a better movie.

Tiefling Barbarian: Unless that other hour is nothing but Gryphons...eff that noise.

For the Fans?

Human Rogue: The world feels so small. People are getting places instantly. There's no sense of travel or adventure. I know people make fun of Lord of the Rings for its walking montages, but people can walk across Azeroth overnight and armies can march in two days. It feels rushed. Everything is on fast-forward. There is never a point where characters sit down and help us understand this world.

Elf Sorcerer: I feel like they rested on their laurels. Blizzard very much caters to their fans. I feel like that's where they came from with the movie. Obviously, it worked with you [Drow Warlock] because you're a Blizzard person.

Drow Warlock: I went in expecting to hate it. I went in expecting it to be complete garbage based on the reception. Because as much of a fan as I am, I still have very high standards for movies. I'm amazed that I liked it at all.

Elf Sorcerer: But I feel like only Blizzard people would actively go see it. If I had a choice between this and Jupiter Ascending, I would probably watch Jupiter Ascending. Jupiter Ascending is probably worse than Warcraft, but they catered to the people who they knew were going to be there and gave them what they expected. I think an hour longer would be more of that. I don't think they had their teeth sharpened to make a movie for a general audience.

Human Rogue: It doesn't feel finished? It's like you're watching the prequel comic to the actual movie.

Half-Elf Ranger: We keep talking about how they should have eased people in and a big part of that is character development. We have almost no knowledge of any of the characters. There is not a clear protagonist or protagonists and we know nothing about the ones who have to fit that mold. We have no reason to root for them. The character we end up knowing the most about is...Dothrak, there.

Drow Warlock: Durotan?

Tiefling Barbarian: The orc.

Half-Elf Ranger: Yes, Durotan. He's the one we end up knowing the most about, but even with him, we only get little glimpses. There's almost no character development at all.

Human Rogue: And he exits the movie surprisingly early.

Tiefling Barbarian: Yes, and it's stupid.

Half-Elf Ranger: No, it's close to the end.

Drow Warlock: There's about 25 minutes left.

Human Rogue: When he left the movie, there was no one left for me to be invested in.

Tiefling Barbarian: So the entire point for him exiting the movie in that was to show what a bad guy this evil wizard orc was so the Horde wouldn't follow him. Then they end up following him anyway, so what was the freaking point?

Elf Sorcerer: I mean, we have Donald Trump in the running for the Republican party.

Tiefling Barbarian: Let's not go there! This is just a movie!

Elf Sorcerer: It's a reflection of real life.

Tiefling Barbarian: Oh, God.

Drow Warlock: I mean, he was trying to kill him and take his place

Tiefling Barbarian: But there's this specific line where they say they need to show everyone else how bad he is.

Half-Elf Ranger: And he did! And everyone was like "Holy shit, he's awful!" But then they just follow him anyway.

Tiefling Barbarian: Here's fifteen or twenty minutes that didn't need to happen!

Building Character

Human Rogue: Can we go around the circle and talk about a character or performance we actually liked? You can't say the Gryphon.

[Everyone groans.]

Human Rogue: I really liked Toby Kebbell as Durotan, but I have to appreciate Ben Foster's really crazy wizard. It's a really bizarre performance and I feel like he's trying to give life to a character who doesn't really exist on the page and I think he fares better than most everyone else.

Tiefling Barbarian: You already took away the Gryphon, so...the wolves that the orcs ride! Honestly, I don't like playing humans in D&D because there are so many other interesting things. I'm a human every day and I want to get away from that. All of the other non-human characters were two-dimensional and boring and I didn't like any of them. I didn't feel for any of those characters. They could have all died and it would have been fine.

Human Rogue: How terrible was the young wizard?

Tiefling Barbarian: He was a good actor.

Half-Elf Ranger: Who?

Drow Warlock: Khadgar.

Half-Elf Ranger: Haaated him.

Tiefling Barbarian: I thought he was a fine actor, but again, I didn't care about him.

Half-Elf Ranger: Everyone is doing okay work, I guess, but none of them are given anything to do. Like, what do you you know about Preacher [Llane Wrynn, played by Dominic Cooper]? You don't know anything about him. He's a king. That's all you know.

Tiefling Barbarian: Preacher and Tulip [Ruth Negga] are in that.

Half-Elf Ranger: And neither of them do anything. They aren't given anything to do. There's nothing for anyone to do except Durotan, so if you have to pick someone, I guess you pick Durotan because he's the one the movie tries the hardest to get you to understand.

Drow Warlock: Durotan is my favorite character in it, but I thought Gul'dan was really cool. I like how he turned out. I liked his performance.

Tiefling Barbarian: At least you know what he's after. There's that. He has clear motives.

Drow Warlock: I feel like the orcs were much, much better characterized than all of the humans. I joked to Elf Sorcerer when we saw it that the movie was "orcs vs. thirty-year old bearded white men."

Tiefling Barbarian: Oh my God, yes. So many men, too. There's just one female character that they shoehorned in and here's another one who's sister to another guy who doesn't do anything.

Human Rogue: That aspect is disappointing because you occasionally see female human soldiers and female orcs in the ground. One of the great things about World of Warcraft is that you can be anything that you want to be. Here, it's just a bunch of guys fighting a bunch of guys. It's disappointing for a series that has proven inclusive before.

Half-Elf Ranger: Are those the only two races in Warcraft?

Tiefling Barbarian: No. There were elves and dwarves there, too.

Drow Warlock: There are a lot more, but this is just chapter one of a much bigger thing.

Elf Sorcerer: I really wanted to like the female orc because I like the idea of a badass female.

Drow Warlock: You mean the half-orc?

Elf Sorcerer: Yeah.

Drow Warlock: Garona.

Elf Sorcerer: That one. But she tries to go after the dude [Lothar] the day his son dies and it's really awkward and her acting is just really poor. I think I agree with Drow Warlock because I've already forgotten his name. The evil guy.

Drow Warlock: Gul'dan.

Elf Sorcerer: I think he was pretty good.

Daddy Issues

Human Rogue: I feel really bad for Paula Patton because I know she's a good actress from other movies. But here, she's stuck in this bad make-up and just feels lost for the entire movie.

Drow Warlock: She's not supposed to be an orc, you know. She's a half-breed.

Tiefling Barbarian: Which they kind of said in a throwaway line, but you never understand the implications of that or what it means.

Human Rogue: Was Ben Foster supposed to be her father? I felt that was implied and then immediately dropped.

Half-Elf Ranger: I thought that was where they were going, but they kind of pulled back from that.

Tiefling Barbarian: Who's Ben Foster?

Half-Elf Ranger: The evil wizard.

Tiefling Barbarian: Oh.

Drow Warlock: The world the orcs came from is Draenor.

Half-Elf Ranger: Do they ever say that name?

Drow Warlock: I don't think so. Remember all of those people in cages at the beginning? Those are the Draenei. Either she's a half-breed of a Dranei and an orc or it's the Medivh thing and he was on trip and decided to have sex with an orc. But I don't think so. I think she's half Dranei and half orc. I'm not sure about Medivh. The mechanics of that seem really...complicated.

The Look of the Whole Thing

Human Rogue: Was anyone here impressed by the technology? There's been a lot of press about the motion capture stuff. In the close-ups, I think the orcs look great, but once you go into the wide shots, it wasn't quite as impressive.

Half-Elf Ranger: I think the new Planet of the Apes movies are far more impressive than anything I saw in Warcraft.

Tiefling Barbarian: I thought it looked like rubbery CG. I wasn't impressed by any of it.

Human Rogue: I did appreciate how they captured the look of the Warcraft world, which is cartoonish by design. The exaggeration proportions, the bright colors...I appreciate how it didn't just try to look like another modern fantasy movie and embraced the style of the game.

Drow Warlock: I was not expecting that. I was surprised when I saw the first trailer because I was expecting them to Dark Knight-ify it, where everything is dark and dreary and gray. But they really went with the style of the games. It was unexpected.

Elf Sorcerer: If they had CGI-ed the humans, I would have appreciated it more. Because when you see them in the background of shots, it's like blech, that's green screen. It's sooo green screen. If it was all animated, everything would have been more forgivable for me.

Maximum Irritation

Human Rogue: Half-Elf Ranger, was there anything in this movie that simply pissed you off?

Half-Elf Ranger: I don't think I was ever really pissed. I was just bored.

Tiefling Barbarian: No, you were! There was one moment where you leaned to me and whispered "WHAT?" And that was at the end where the King's like "You must kill me. Bring about orc and human peace!"

Half-Elf Ranger: Yeah, fuck that. That's stupid.

Human Rogue: That's one of my pet peeves in any movie. Never set up such an extreme cliffhanger when there's no guaranteed follow-up.

Drow Warlock: Duncan Jones apparently has a trilogy planned, but only if it makes enough money.

Warcraft as an RPG Movie

Drow Warlock: One thing that is interesting, and it relates to this whole D&D group thing and if I have seen it in another fantasy movie, I can't remember, but when they were doing spells you could feel them charging up for it or rolling dice or waiting on cooldown timers. People weren't just like spell, spell, spell, spell, spell, spell, spell. They were were like "Okay, I'm going to do this spell now and I need to say the thing and do this and roll something..." Of all the fantasy movies I've seen, it most closely relates to roleplaying mechanics in the sense of how they pull off spells. I thought that was interesting. It wasn't just "I'm a mage! Fireball! Fireball!"

Elf Sorcerer: You can also see that when the humans fight the orcs. The orcs should kill all of them immediately, but there's that one guy who rolls perfect dice and takes them down.

Tiefling Barbarian: Or he just slides between their legs and slices up into their balls. That's the easiest way to kill them, apparently. Here's the orc thats been imbued with magical powers and is stronger than anyone else. Here's the human that's going to kill it instantly.

Drow Warlock: You slice open anyone's balls, they done.

Elf Sorcerer: It's a soft spot.

Moral Conflict (and Birds)

Human Rogue: I appreciate the ambition of having a storyline where both sides are intended to be sympathetic and both sides are fighting for things they truly believe in. I just don't think it hits the right emotional notes for that struggle to matter. Did this moral conflict work for anyone?

Tiefling Barbarian: Never. I could tell when it was trying to make me feel something.

Half-Elf Ranger: The conflict between what?

Human Rogue: How the movie tries to make you feel for both sides.

Half-Elf Ranger: I don't think they tried very hard.

Drow Warlock: I appreciate what they tried to do, but I felt a lot more for the orcs than the humans. The humans got a lot less character work. I do think it's an interesting attempt to show war and a –

Tiefling Barbarian and Half-Elf Ranger: Craft.

Drow Warlock: – and a refugee-type situation from both sides on a studio film. It's not what you'd expect. For whatever problems people have with the movie, the fact that they try to show both sides with equal weight is not something you usually see.

Tiefling Barbarian: What's with little baby orc Moses? You hear all of this voice over. Is he supposed to remember all of that when he grows up? I don't care enough to watch any of the sequels.

Drow Warlock: He becomes a major character much later in the narrative.

Human Rogue: How long do orcs live?

Drow Warlock: I have no idea. I feel like I should know that.

Tiefling Barbarian: Oh, there were a bunch of three wattled bellbird sounds that I heard in the movie. That's not right for that habitat, but I forgive it.

Drow Warlock: It's not...it's not on Earth. So couldn't they be anywhere?

Tiefling Barbarian: They're still adapted to specific places, even if it's not on Earth.

Drow Warlock: But they could be magic wattled...whatever you called them.

Tiefling Barbarian: That's it. Magic three wattled bellbirds.

Drow Warlock: That should be your new handle on everything.

Tiefling Barbarian: It's pretty long.

Drow Warlock: I think it's worth it.

Human Rogue: I think it's very, very telling that we're talking about birds right now instead of Warcraft.