Film Review: Kingslaive: Final Fantasy XV

With stunning photorealistic animation but poor storytelling, this action movie is meant solely to interest fans of the videogame franchise.
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It’s been 15 years since the release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the animated movie based on the popular Square Enix videogame, seen as a complete failure at the time but having little effect on the popularity of the game, which promises a new chapter soon. In the meantime, director Takeshi Nozue—who has been involved with the animation of the game for 17 years—has created a new chapter in the series as a standalone movie, using the capabilities of motion-capture animation that have allowed some videogames to look as good as the biggest blockbuster movies.

In an awkward opening-credits sequence, we’re informed about the conflict between the peaceful domed land of Lucis, ruled by King Regis (voiced by Sean Bean), and the imperial and tyrannical Niflheim. We’re thrown directly into an impressive battle sequence between the King’s military, the Kingslaive, led by the brave warrior Nix Ulrich (voiced by Aaron Paul), and Niflheim’s forces, which include all sorts of creatures and an immense shadowy demon. It’s a sequence as big as anything you’re likely to see in a theatre, on par with Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films, but then things slow down dramatically, as we’re introduced to more characters with even sillier names like Ravus Nox Fleuret and Ardyn Izunia. To end the war, Niflheim has proposed a peace treaty with their enemy as long as King Regis’ son marries Luna, the princess of Tenebrae (voiced by Lena Headey).

Videogames as a medium and movies based on them (or that look like them) rarely get a fair shake from film critics, and Kingslaive is a perfect example of why that’s often the case. Most of the movie’s photorealistic animation was created using motion capture, with the voices dubbed by high-profile actors like Paul, Headey and Bean (the latter two from “Game of Thrones”) to give the characters more gravitas. Despite this, you’re still dealing with CG humans that sometimes look more realistic than other ones, but with the intensity of the voice actors’ emotions rarely matched by the CG humans’ stiff faces.

Not surprisingly, this often makes the movie look like an elaborate cut scene without the added interactivity of gameplay—and much more frustrating to watch. Add to that writing that’s about as bad as a typical videogame cut scene and it’s hard to stay interested, especially when spectacular and elaborate action sequences give way to dull dialogue moments where it’s obvious the actors’ lines were dubbed later. It’s somewhat surprising the producers were able to get such big-name actors involved, and though a fantastic musical score does help make the movie more exciting, it does nothing to remedy the inherent story problems.

While Kinglsaive offers viewers some of the classic aircraft and creatures from the games, the characters are also seen driving around in expensive sports cars or talking on cellphones while dressed in fancy clothes more suited towards fantasy. This creates quite a jarring dichotomy indeed.

You also have a confusing title that might make some fans wonder whether this movie is meant to be a companion piece to the forthcoming Final Fantasy XV game or to replace it altogether.

One imagines diehard fans of the game might appreciate what director Nozue has created here to tie them over, but it’s hard to not be reminded of the recent Warcraft, where you really need to be into the world and the mythos to have any sort of personal connection to what’s happening. Without that connection, much of the film just come across as silly.

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