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SYFY WIRE House of the Dragon

The ‘Warcraft’ movie might help you fill that 'House of the Dragon’ hole your life

House Targaryen and Sauron/Halbrand won’t be back for a while, so give Warcraft a shot.

By Brian Silliman
Warcraft (2016)

Are you missing some magic? We don't blame you, this was a huge year for fantasy on television. We had a brilliant first season of The Sandman, and then the Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon roared in and became an instant delight. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was right behind it, and for time this year, we had orcs, dragons, and magic running right up to our necks.

The year isn’t over yet, either, as both His Dark Materials and The Witcher: Blood Origin will arrive before 2022 has played its last trick. You may have a fantasy-sized hole in your life at the moment, so you might consider spooling up Peacock and checking out Warcraft, which is currently streaming on the service.

Based on the famous video game series of the same name, the 2016 movie was not the biggest hit. Critics hated it, and fans were not raring to host Warcraft viewing parties. It did well enough to be successful for a video game adaptation (not a high bar), but not well enough for a sequel to get an instant green light. As of now, rumors of a sequel continue to persist, though a complete reboot seems more likely, if anything.

This is unfortunate, because Warcraft spends much of its runtime setting up sequels. Director Duncan Jones keeps the fantasy fun flowing smoothly, but the one thing about the movie that continually stops it flat is franchise seeding. Stops it for us, we should say, it may be different for you.

Prior knowledge of the game series definitely helps as well, but does Warcraft work on its own? No game, no sequel, just one and done? At the time, some of us would have said no. Watching it again recently, we were glad to discover that we were wrong. We were also glad that we stopped being such Dieter Downers.

It’s not The Return of the King, and it’s not Game of Thrones. It remains an enjoyable watch, and it will scratch any fantasy itch that you may still have.

Warcraft (2016)

The lore comes fast and furious. Names and locations are tossed out at you like crumbs at a pigeon park, and there are prophecies and secrets galore. You may get lost, and that’s okay. The real joys of the movie lie with the action and imagery.

Humans and orcs are at war in the magical land of Azeroth. That’s all you need to know. There are many battles in the movie, and one of them features an orc throwing a horse over its head. The effects looked good in 2016, and they hold up. They are astounding when it comes to the orcs, especially the lead characters.

Durotan, played by Tony Kebbell, is one of the chief orcs in the story. Kebbell’s prior work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes possibly put him in a position to make more motion-capture magic here. Durotan is an incredible creation, and every acting choice rings out loud and clear. This is an orc who shoulders burdens, and you see them all in his eyes.

On the human side, you’ve got Travis Fimmel playing Anduin Lothar. We’ll come clean… when we first saw this movie, we had no idea what Fimmel was doing. We also hadn’t yet seen Vikings. We hadn’t come to know the glories of Fimmel in the role of Ragnar Lothbrok. That changed. 

We’re in for Fimmel now, so Fimmel's Lothar has become another one of the movie’s joys. Lothar is like a watery-eyed Aragorn, crossed with Madmartigan, with some Jack Sparrow on the side. He doesn’t always know where he is; this may be true of Fimmel himself as well. He’s on a ride, and he mostly enjoys it. He’s in his own world, and in his own movie. That’s fine, because he’s a lot of fun to watch.

Also in his own movie is Ben Foster, playing Medivh, the Guardian of Azeroth. He is making choices aplenty, zigging when everything else in the movie is zagging. Somehow it only enhances everything around it. Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga don’t get much to do as the King and Queen of Stormwind, but their presence is strong. Paula Patton’s Garona is a wildcard. In case all of that wasn’t enough, you get the legendary Clancy Brown as an orc named Blackhand. 

The movie is not going for any kind of fantasy realism, aside from the detailed look of the orcs. Magic has bright swirling colors, and portals beam with neon energy. Almost every use of magic comes with a light show. Pump your television’s colors big and bright, churn up that sound, and you may think you’ve teleported to an orc-infested Fourth of July party. Ragnar showed up!

There are also a multitude of secrets and schemes, with many characters having varying agendas. There are surprising deaths. No one manipulates on the level of someone like Otto Hightower, but they do what they can. 

Knowing that none of what is being set up will ever pay off aside, this is a fun fantasy experience. It’s not perfect, but when it works, it works. With Dream of the Endless regrouping, the Targaryens taking time to plan their civil war, and Celebrimbor doing whatever The Rings of Power is gonna have him do in the off-season, now is a fine time to visit the bada** orcs and swirling magical colors of Azeroth. Warcraft awaits.

Warcraft is currently streaming on Peacock. The dwarves made guns.