Apparently, the Final Fantasy franchise is a pretty big deal. This really should be no surprise, as I know several people who speak of “Legend of Zelda” with hushed reverence and know its expansive universe backwards and forwards.
Originating from hands-on role playing games in the mid 80’s to a financially lucrative video game franchise, the next logical step has been to spin off these highly imaginative worlds onto the big screen. They also want to be trailblazers. I can remember seeing Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) in theaters because of the hoopla over its mind-bending visual style when CGI and the video game aesthetic were just beginning to gather steam and render its gravity-busting anime roots possible. For all the lackluster uses of CGI in mainstream media, this style of entertainment has benefited most honestly from its advancements.
And that’s exactly what Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV delivers, including large scale battles of fire-breathing monsters, superhuman acrobatics from military style warriors and eye-popping vistas created with a sublimely crisp and seamless blend of human motion-capture technology and animation. Fans of the genre will most likely be pleased, and that’s why this film was created. Creating new converts to its world? That didn’t happen with me.
Directed by Takeshi Nozue — who’s been involved with the Final Fantasy platform in some way or another for several years now — makes the most of his opportunity. Opening with a small teaser that helps neophytes such as myself get acquainted with where Kingsglaive fits into the Final Fantasy timeline, there’s barely time to recuperate from that burst of information before the film opens onto a destructive battle that finds the King’s guard soldiers fighting off the invading Niflheim forces.
Eventually, a few of the soldiers, voiced by actors such as Aaron Paul and Amanda Piery, come into focus, with Paul’s Nyx evolving into the hero of the story. Of course, there’s a beautiful exiled princess (Lena Headey) and a dangerous, shifting political landscape created by a proposed peace treaty to be signed between the King (Sean Bean) and the evil empire leader, which all leads to various double crosses and close-call action set pieces. It’s narrative fodder for video game spectacle.
The first part of Kinglsglaive: Final Fantasy XV plays and cuts like a video game extract, which becomes especially distracting. Full of quick fade outs and a tense editing style that barely allows for the on-screen action to sink in, the introductory battle ends up alienating. Things do slow down a bit as character development takes hold (and line readings are about as demonstrative as any animated film) and then it’s loud, fast and furious during its final third. CGI may have made astronomical bounds, but the general storytelling chops of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV are rooted in the same tired, ‘whiz bam’ theatrics.
Visually, which is certainly the film’s tent pole strength, it borrows heavily from science fiction iconography. One quick cityscape resembles the stacked, fluorescent lateral-ism of Blade Runner. There’s lots of talk of “the empire.” Even Luc Besson’s gaudy theatrics from The Fifth Element feel like allusions at times. It makes for cool inspiration spotting.
But visuals are not enough for a film that strives to compose a wholly bombastic universe. Too much of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is choppy and confused, at best. And it’s exactly why films like this make me feel old. I recognize the imagination and effort that goes into such an endeavor, yet its a film that rings especially hollow. Even with the new technology of motion capture and 3D scan, the technique doesn’t quite bottle the soul of its characters. And if the action around them doesn’t strike a chord, we’re left with an empty spectacle. Too often nowadays, that’s not enough.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, August 19 at the AMC Valley View Mall and AMC Parks Arlington. It also opens on VOD platforms on August 30.