Thursday, May 4, 2017


Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we dissect the differences and similarities between two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. This week, Robert compares two of the movies inspired by the beloved video game series Final Fantasy: FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN

In the history of video games, few series are as well-known, or as long-lived, as Final Fantasy. If you're a gamer, odds are you've probably played a Final Fantasy game at some point. But such has been the series' impact on gaming in general, we've all been affected by it, whether we know it or not. When a game series comes to mean that much to so many people, it's only natural that it will inspire a movie, or in the case of Final Fantasy, three. As I write this introduction, I have just blown the dust off my chronically ignored copy of Advent Children, the sequel to Final Fantasy VII. Later, I'll have my first viewing of Kingsglaive, the prequel to the most recent installment in the franchise, and see how Square Enix has improved in its movie-making ability in the seven year gap between the two films.

First, Advent Children. Let's get this straight first off: Advent Children is meant specifically for the fans of Final Fantasy VII. That you have played the game before watching the movie, or at the very least, that you are comfortably familiar with the game's story and events, is assumed from the very beginning of this movie. The first thing you see before the movie even starts is a title card spelling this out: "To those who loved this world, and found joyful companionship therein: this reunion is for you." Without that familiarity with FF VII's world, Advent Children will likely come across an action-heavy, incoherent mess as the movie assumes you already know the backstory, and so gets right down to business.

This assumption of familiarity is so much a part of this movie, you can't even talk about the story and hope to make any sense. The movie is set two years after the end of the game, with the world still recovering from the effects of Meteorfall and the steps the planet took to defend itself. Meanwhile, a small group of former members of SOLDIER seek to obtain the remains of Jenova, which ... see what I mean? I confuse even myself, and I know what the hell I was talking about there. Credit where it's due, though: it does make it awfully difficult to spoil things.

As love letters to the fan base go, you'd be hard pressed to find a better one than Advent Children. Every character you remember from the game makes an appearance, to a greater or lesser degree. Even though the film is eight years old, it has aged quite well given the rapid evolution CGI technology is known for. There are a few details that stand out: nobody's hair moves naturally, and things like rainwater on a person's face don't look right, but overall the movie is stunningly beautiful for its age. Fans of the game will see a number of locations revisited. Fans of anime action sequences will certainly get their fill, so much so that it may be hard to believe the movie has any kind of a plot at all, as the film piles one "wow, cool" moment on top of another. Get past all the "inner circle" obfuscation and that plot isn't incredibly deep; there's bad guys who wanna wreck everyone's day. Cloud and Company are gonna stop 'em. Even still, though, the people behind this movie clearly understand what these characters mean to fans of the game. It's great to see them all together again for one more battle, and the soundtrack by series composer Nobuo Uematsu, which includes a piano version of the FF7 fight music, ties it all together.

Near exclusive focus on the fan base notwithstanding, it makes sense that this would be the first Final Fantasy game to get a movie based on it. Final Fantasy VII may be the best known game in the entire series. To prove my point: name for me a villian from any Final Fantasy game other than FF 7. Unless you're currently playing one of them, or you're an FF supergeek, I'll bet you can't do it; I know I certainly can't. But odds are, you've heard of Sephiroth (and, yeah, he's in the movie, too).

Eleven years later, Square Enix Pictures kicks into gear again to bring us Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, which serves to setup the world and circumstances surrounding Final Fantasy XV, the game. The plot is pretty much the same as every other Final Fantasy setup for the last twenty years: a peaceful kingdom ruled with the power of a crystal is under seige by a rival nation. By the usual avenues of cunning and treachery, the peaceful kingdom falls. The crystal is usurped, and the world falls to waiting for heroes to once again make with the hero-ing. Because of that, and the fact that the release of this movie was timed to sync with the release of the game, I can understand why you'd be inclined to write this movie off as a mere cash-grab tie-in. It's certainly not a complex piece of storytelling, but I still appreciate it on a technical level. This is some of the best-looking CGI animation I've seen yet, especially the animation of human faces. The level of detail the animators have acheived in that regard this time is astounding.

The plot is stock standard, and includes a twist that opens a pretty significant plot hole; I won't dispute these points. But if the point of making Kingsglaive had been simply another excuse to recreate the feast for the eyes that is Final Fantasy's signature world and character design, then I can't hate this movie. The FF world is amazing to look at, and has been for years. And CGI movies like this serve as reminders of what CGI animation can be, freed from the just-for-kids constraints of Disney and the like. I'm not (entirely) mad at Disney's CGI track record, and I get that movie studios are going to make the projects that will sell. But when an animation team puts the kind of minute detail into its work that we see here, I have to give repect.

And so, in the end, I have to declare a tie. Neither Advent Children nor Kingsglaive brings what anyone would mistake for a deep plot. One tries to cover for this with a lot of nudge-nudge references to events that came before, while the other contents itself that its narrative purpose is to world-build, and then phones it in. Advent Children's frantic action can be tiring, while some of the fights in Kingsglaive happen on too large a scale to be followed easily. But these movies both succeed in bringing the beauty of the Final Fantasy world to the big screen, and that's no small feat in itself.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action violence. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action throughout.

Robert's Scores:
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children: 6 / 10
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV: 6 / 10

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