REVIEW: Is 'Warcraft' family friendly? (And just HOW violent is it?)

by Michael Foust , Guest Reviewer |

CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – You don't have to wait very long to discover that Warcraft, which opens this weekend, is a dark, ugly and incredibly violent movie.

In fact, it takes about one second, when the very first thing we see is a human skull on a barren landscape. Less than a minute later an orc — those are the monster-like creatures – kills a person in a one-on-one battle.

And thus begins about two hours of graphic and bloody battles between orcs and humans, and orcs and orcs, and even humans and humans.

You see, there's a reason it's rated PG-13 for "extended sequences of intense fantasy violence." Sure, it's "fantasy," but it sure looks real – especially to kids, and particularly when an orc crushes someone's head on the battlefield.

The movie is based on the wildly popular Warcraft video game series, which launched in the 1990s on computers and stills thrives today on different platforms, including smartphones and tablets. The game follows the battle between humans and orcs – horrific-looking ogre-like creatures with big muscles, quick tempers, and tusks growing out of their lower jaw.

In the movie, the orcs and humans live in completely different realms, but they collide when the orcs must find a home because their world is dying.

So their leader (the evil Gul'dan) decides to invade the human realm of Azeroth by – hang with me here – building a magical portal whereby the orcs will simply walk through. But there's a problem. The portal is powered by the dark "fel magic," which requires that living beings be killed and sacrificed – and there's not enough living beings in the orc realm to allow all the orcs into the human world. Gul'dan hatches a plan: He will send some orcs through the portal, and they will bring humans back to the orc world to sacrifice to the evil magic, and thereby allow all of the orcs to walk through.

It sounds just like the sweet story you would read your children right before bedtime, huh? Of course not, and that's one reason I certainly can't recommend it for kids, even though it has no sexuality and only two coarse words. (The other reason being that your kids just may have nightmares about violent orcs for the next 12 months.)

But how should adults and teens approach this movie?

Warcraft is a world full of magic – bad magic and so-called "good magic." Christians have had heated discussions about the use of magic in movies, but perhaps the biggest problem in Warcraft is that the bad magic and the good magic are equal – with the bad magic even pulling a good magician to its side.

We're also told in the film that "from light comes darkness, and from darkness light" – a sort of Warcraft yin and yang. Additionally, we hear that "the true guardians of this world are the people themselves," as if we needed a reminder that it is God-less.

Yet even with the violence and sorcery, there are a handful of positive elements. Two of the orcs spark a rebellion by turning against Gul'dan, after seeing that everything he and the fel magic touches is destroyed. These orcs are tired of the war and the evil, and they simply want a peaceful world with laughter and green grass. There's also a lesson there about not judging someone based on their appearance – because those peaceful orcs sure look violent.

There are a few poignant moments of sacrifice in the movie, where orcs and humans put their desire to defeat Gul'dan ahead of their own personal safety.

One of the film's most amazing moments takes place when an orc mom places her baby in a basket and sends him down a stream, hoping to save him from war, and giving all of us a reminder of the true-to-life story of Moses.

From a purely entertainment perspective, Warcraft isn't a horrible movie – and certainly not as bad as many critics are saying. I enjoyed it much more than Angry Birds, the most recent video game-turned-movie. But the ending was unsatisfactory, and the violence largely overshadowed what few positive messages the writers were trying to portray.

Entertainment rating: 3 Family friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Warcraft is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence. It has two coarse words (ba----d and h---). Orc women dress provocatively, although there is no sexuality.

Post-movie discussion topics: War – what is required for stopping the cycle between countries with long histories?; Magic in movies – when is it OK and not OK?

Michael Foust has covered films for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelFoust