Director: Takeshi Nozue
Starring: Aaron Paul, Lena Headey and Sean Bean
Release Date: Out Now (Digital Download)
Say what you want about Square-Enix: they don’t give up easily. You might have guessed that from their ironically named Final Fantasy franchise, which will have fifteen entries before Christmas, 2016.
And that’s not even including the spin-offs, of which there are more than twenty.
Yet, while the games have enjoyed great success, the films haven’t been so lucky. Swinging from competent but dull (The Spirits Within) to exciting but vapid (Advent Children), both entries offered great potential that ultimately went unrealised.
The thinking process behind all three films is plainly evident from their styles: The Spirits Within was an experiment. Narratively well-structured and technically impressive, it was nonetheless slammed by fans and critics alike. Not only was the story lacking in terms of fun, it also had little, if anything, to do with the franchise.
Advent Children was a reactionary project, the safest bet they could have made after that disaster. A sequel to Final Fantasy VII, their most popular entry, it was crammed full of fan service and insane action sequences. Naturally, the fans loved it, but many audiences are still trying to make sense of the near impenetrable, badly-told story.
Kingsglaive is an improvement overall, but once again, there are too many flaws holding it back from being a true success.
Set directly before the events of Final Fantasy XV, Kingsglaive follows Nxy Ulric (Paul), a proud member of the titular Kingsglaive, serving under King Regis (Bean). When Nyx uncovers a plot to overthrow the kingdom of Lucis, he is duty bound to protect Lady Lunafreya (Headey) and to prove himself a hero for the people.
Barely more complex than the original Super Mario Bros., this is a basic story that functions as little more than an expensive marketing device for the game.
…albeit a successful one.
The most impressive aspect of Kingsglaive is undoubtedly its visuals. It exhibits stunning, sun-kissed vistas within the opening minutes, teasing players with the areas they can expect to explore within the game. It’s filled to the brim with teleportation action, to hype up the game’s new battle system. And, just for good measure, we are treated to some restrained, but very strategically placed, fan service in the shape of monster cameos.
It looks, in short, like a very fun sandbox to play in.
The problem, as with previous entries, is the writing. Aside from an enjoyable opening battle, the first half of the film is a tired mess of awkward exposition. In an attempt to get the audience up to speed, information is heavily layered into horribly inorganic dialogue. Tweaked versions of the phrase “Don’t you get it?” are repeated at several intervals, a blatant signpost for important upcoming plot points. Even the simplest message that the film is trying to convey (Nyx = Hero) is painfully mishandled. With almost no personality traits to speak of, we are instead reminded of his valor by his, often ironic, nickname…. ‘Hero’. *groan*
Worse again, while lacking in complexity, there are still complications. With so much dialogue, and so many unfamiliar names to memorise, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. You will often struggle to retain information that, in the grand scheme of things, contributes very little to the main plot.
It doesn’t help that the voice acting in some areas is below standard either. The character of Libertus, another member of the Kingsglaive, is particularly grating. While well suited for a dopey henchman in a Saturday morning cartoon, it boggles the mind that he is given such solemn dialogue here. Worse, he is a pivotal, emotionally driven character, which only serves to underline the poor choice of casting.
Lena Headey also phones it in, exhibiting nothing but whispery determination for almost every scene (though, to be fair, the character allows for little else). When she is given the odd moment to be animated, she has a tendency to simply adjust her volume rather than her tone.
It’s a small mercy then that Square-Enix sticks to what it knows for the second half. Once the plot to overthrow the kingdom is underway, the story no longer matters and it’s all about the action.
The main highlight occurs at the film’s midpoint, during a rescue mission aboard an airship. Just as Nyx and his ‘glaives are about to evacuate, they have one of Final Fantasy’s trademark random encounters.
A familiar cretin from the series’ history explodes out of nowhere and systematically begins to disassemble the ship from the inside. It’s a brilliant scene, expertly combining fan service, quality action and emotional heft into one superb package.
The film manages to maintain this level of momentum fairly well, right up to the final act. It stumbles at times, slowing down a little for more exposition, but never completely trips itself up. Explaining further would spoil the film to a degree, but let’s just say it wanders into Advent Children levels of chaos. It does occasionally get a little too messy to see what’s going on, but it never stops being impressive on a technical level.
These are the scenes you are likely to fast-forward to if you ever watch it again, much like Advent Children’s final act. There’s no denying that, as singular action sequences, they are superb and fully deserving of high praise. The final score for this film is not a reflection of that.
But as a finished product, Kingsglaive is severely lacking. The action doesn’t excuse the overall experience and the fan service, while expertly handled to cloud judgement, won’t sustain the movie for years to come.
You don’t give a tuna and custard sandwich a thumbs-up, just because the bread is particularly fresh.
This is a badly told story, with adequate-at-best voice acting and more mood swings than a teen disco.
…and yet, it still manages to make us sort of excited for the game.
Written by Stephen Hill