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Warcraft was the only hope for video game movies, now all hope is lost

The Warcraft movie is bad. It’s bad as a translation of a beloved video game franchise, it’s bad at being accessible to people that aren’t familiar with medium to deep cuts of Warcraft lore, it’s bad at pacing, it’s bad at living up to Blizzard’s famed CG standards and humor, it’s bad at representing video games as a legitimate source of classy entertainment, and it sure is bad as a movie in general — even in a non-Warcraft vacuum. It gets worse, though! Warcraft isn’t just a bad video game movie, it’s going to be every producer’s favorite excuse not to make a good big budget video game film.

Critical reception doesn’t always translate to box office success. The most recent instance of this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was universally panned, but as of writing, it made $872 million worldwide. Everyone saw it; your mom knows who Superman and Batman are and that it’s crazy they’re v-ing each other. The potential audience of Warcraft is smaller than the potential audience of Superman and Batman punching each other in the name of justice, but everyone in Warcraft’s potential audience will see the movie. Arguably the most beloved game developer just made a big budget movie of one of the most beloved, famous video game franchises of all time. If you like games, how could you not see it?

Seeing it is a trip. A bad one, sure — the kind where you end up on your couch for eight hours holding onto the cushions for dear life, leaving voicemails you don’t remember where your friends can’t tell if you’re laughing or crying. Like that kind of trip, the Warcraft movie is far more fun to talk about than actually deal with. The words “Kirin Tor” are spoken aloud in a Hollywood movie more than once. What a time to be alive.

Even as someone who refused to play World of Warcraft (on which the movie is not based, but the game’s popularity is no doubt what led to this movie’s existence) because it meant the death of the phenomenal RTS series (and also because a game where the action predominantly consists of clicking icons on a hot bar would mean the death of me), it was hard not to mark out at a bunch of stuff in the movie. However, even the fan service was sorely lacking. There was a single Murloc for a couple seconds, but it didn’t exactly mrglgl. Both Doomhammer the weapon and Doomhammer the orc were all over the place, but the hammer barely smooshed anything and the orc was more indecisive than having to choose between Cairne or Sylvanas in your Hearthstone deck. Worst of all, despite manual labor being frequently shown in the movie, no one said “job’s done,” so that’s a big, fat, inarguable 0/10 for the whole film any way you cut it.

Here’s the thing, though. A bad movie is just a bad movie. You waste two hours in the theater, joke about it afterwards over giant, greasy diner burgers, and move on. Yet when Blizzard, a company famous for making incredible scripted cutscenes, can’t save video game movies, what hope is there? I’ve been a huge proponent of the theory that, if Nintendo gave it Lord of the Rings Money ™, a Zelda movie would totally work. Well, Hollywood made it rain on Warcraft ($160 million budget, good for 85th highest of all time), and it probably would’ve gone better if movie theaters just projected some Hearthstone Twitch streams onto their silver screens.

Video game movies are never going to stop getting made, that’s not what’s at stake here. Video games are too popular, and many have far more interesting source material than whatever book or comic or fever dream or drug trip might inspire some other movie. In December of this year, Real Actor (tm again) Michael Fassbender is going to star in an Assassin’s Creed movie that sure sounds like it’s already missing point. Jake Gyllenhaal, already having been in a movie adaptation of a famed video game franchise, Prince of Persia, is going to star in an adaptation of The Division, a game that’s specifically designed to be a Skinner box instead of what a movie is supposed to be: a compelling narrative. Centipede and Missile Command, games with even less narrative than Ubisoft’s military Skinner box, are coming to a narrative-heavy medium near you. A Tetris movie is not only in the works, but has a staggering $80 million budget. Maybe, like “Kirin Tor,” someone will say “tetrominoes” in that movie and we can continue to exist in a time to be alive. Maybe the Kremlin will rocket into the sky.

What’s at stake here is video game movies ever being something more than a disappointment. As of writing, Warcraft sits at a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Critics meter. It sits at a 29 on Metacritic. However, if even a quarter of the Warcraft franchise’s audience all buy a ticket, the movie will succeed at the box office. If a tiny percentage of Blizzard’s worldwide audience (China and Korea, namely) buy a ticket, it’ll succeed even more. If Actually Good Director (tm for the last time) Duncan Jones — who has been running a World of Warcraft guild for a decade — couldn’t help Warcraft, who can help any other video game adaptation? If Blizzard’s lore-rich, character-rich, narrative-rich, visual spectacle-rich franchise couldn’t get it done — and boy, couldn’t it — what can? A flying Kremlin?

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