Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Now Playing: Final Fantasy Advent Children

This is one of those films I watched a few months back then never got around to reviewing. Funny enough, I think it most closely resembles The Matrix films in terms of pure anime rush. The flip side to that is that The Matrix series encompassed both the best and the worst elements of anime, and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is no different.

The movie is a direct follow-up to the mega-ton selling PlayStation game Final Fantasy VII which, if you've never played it, was one of the most beloved games ever. I honestly couldn't tell you why because having played through the whole thing the bad far outweighed the good. The story was crippled by entirely too much metaphysical emotional baggage, the overwrought "big character death" happened to the most annoying character in the game (hence it puzzles me when people say they still get teary-eyed thinking about it), and the only way to get the ultimate weapon in the game was to sink roughly 50 hours into breeding giant birds.

I'll say that last again: The ONLY way you pick up the ultimate weapon in the game is to spend 50 FRICKIN' HOURS OR MORE breeding giant birds. When you finally breed one with a certain ability, you can ride him to a certain island, pick up the weapon, and then go kick the villain's butt inside of 15 minutes. Whoo-hoo, sounds like fun!

Thus it strikes me as absurd that this game is the basis for SquareEnix to make a franchise out of, but they've given it the ol' college try with Advent Children. If you're familiar with the source material then you should be able to jump right in, but if you're someone like my mother who's never heard of it then don't even bother. The film assumes you know who the major players are, the backstory of the world they inhabit, and what the personal stakes are.

As for me, I just couldn't get over how much cooler the game would have been were the characters able to fly like they can in the movie. There must be no gravity whatsoever in this world because characters can leap tall buildings in a single bound all while shooting at one another. It would be undeniably silly, moreso than it already is, if the animation were anything less than dazzling. SquareEnix has crafted a magnificently detailed, jaw-droppingly beautiful world with characters that border on photorealistic. Many times you'll just sit back and stare at how beautiful everything is and there are dozens of instances where the artistry on display is nothing short of overwhelming.

Once the action truly kicks in about three quarters of the way through, Advent Children becomes an anime John Woo movie. Up to that point, the focus was on two main characters from the game, Cloud and Tifa, and their struggle to figure out why the children of the world have grown increasingly ill since they defeated the arch-villain Sephiroth. It seems that Sephiroth wasn't the only clone born of a government experiment, and the three nuts on the loose want his power for themselves regardless of the consequences. They go so far as to unleash a dragon on the main city, and that's when all the secondary characters from the game show up and throw down.

The resulting action is, in a word, mind-blowing. The camera moves so fast through the city that you'll have trouble breathing. It all leads up to Cloud going mano-a-mano with a reborn Sephiroth and all manner of insanity results.

It's tough to actually judge this as a film all by itself because in no way does it stand on its own. It draws from and relies entirely on viewers' experience with the game, so even hardened anime buffs unfamiliar with the source will be lost. There's a feature on the disc that gives people a quick run-through of the game's highlights, but even then I felt I was missing some details. Advent Children remains gorgeous to look at and doesn't skimp on the action, but it is unfairly weighted down by the overstuffed plot from the game. This isn't to say the movie isn't worth your time, but if you're expecting balls-to-the-wall anime action then just skip to the one hour mark and kick back for a heck of a ride.

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