Originally Reviewed – 4/8/2011
Way back when, in the year 1987, a Japanese game designer named Hironobu Sakaguchi, in a last ditch attempt to break into the video game industry, created a little RPG known as Final Fantasy. This simple tale of the Warriors of Light and their quest to regain the power of four mystical crystals spawned a series of sequels that would forever redefine gaming. Fast forward exactly ten years and Square, finally seeing mainstream success with the classic Final Fantasy VI (known as Final Fantasy 3 in the US), released their latest game, Final Fantasy VII on the brand new Sony Playstation. The first game in the series to feature 3D graphics, some minor adult language and a sweeping story of a world in environmental turmoil quickly rocketed to the top of gaming charts everywhere, a place it still holds today. The epic story of Cloud, Aries and the Shinra Corporation ushered a new era in gaming, much like the original did ten years earlier. Fast forward another eight years and, in an attempt to further the story for fans of the game while using the technology of the previous yet poorly received Spirits Within, Final Fantasy VII Advent Children was released. The result was a feature length computer animated film that took the characters everyone knew from the classic game and put them in a brand new adventure. The result?
To be fair, I didn’t experience FF VII when it first came out on the original Playstation. While my friends were freaking out, 1997 was right at the tail end of the “Bit Wars” and I was a Nintendo fan through and through. Truth be told, my first foray into the game was last year, when I decided that I couldn’t call myself a Final Fantasy fan without playing through the game most critics hailed as the finest in the series. The game, in short, is brilliant and while the visuals may not hold up, the story, surprises and action certainly do. But this isn’t a review of the game; this is a review of the cinematic sequel and while the film is rife with nostalgia and high flying action, it all hinges on how much you loved the original experience. If you’ve never played the original, it’s a big, beautiful mess.
The movie picks up right where the game ends with Red XIII running towards a future Midgar, the place where much of the events of FF VII take place. It’s two years after the events of FF VII and while mankind has reverted to a more basic way of living, a new disease known as Geostigma is plaguing the citizens of the once technologically advanced city. Cloud, the hero of the original game, is summoned by the president of Shinra to help stop a group of three mysterious people who are trying to bring back Genova and could be the cause of the disease. If all that flew past you in a hailstorm of “whaaaatt?”, congrats! This is one film you do NOT need to see! This, in a nutshell, is the fatal flaw of Advent Children. Fans will love it, non fans will be completely baffled.
And if you know my reviews, you know I have a theory why. The first Final Fantasy film, The Spirits Within, was dazzlingly animated but panned by critics and audiences alike. While the film was visually stunning, it lacked an interesting story and more importantly, relatable characters. To solve this problem, the filmmakers decided to not only mine familiar material for their follow up, use the characters and setting of the most popular role playing game ever made. As a result, fanboys flipped the f out, despite the film really only centers on Cloud, Tifa and the Turks from FF VII. The rest of the cast drops in, pretty much randomly during one of the epic battles, to serve only as fan service. It warmed my heart as a fan, but made me cringe more than a few times as a critic.
As for all the other things that make a quality film, Advent Children just doesn’t work. The story is decent follow up to the game but the dialogue is laughable, the humor never works and the action is only grounded if you cared about the characters thirteen years ago. While the battles and fight sequences are, for the most part, visceral and fun, I knew this was only the case because those characters had taken root in me from my previous experience. In the end, Advent Children succeeds only on the nostalgia of the viewer and as much as I enjoyed seeing Cloud and the crew together for one more battle in the Lifestream against the evil Sephiroth, I can’t honestly recommend this movie unless you know what the hell a Sephiroth is in the first place.
NOTE: I saw the “Complete” version of this flick, which evidently added twenty minutes of originally cut footage. While, from what I hear, this Complete version helps contexualize the story for those who aren’t familiar with the game, the tale is still only decent.
Score – 50%