Anime Review: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

The city of Midgar is stricken with a plague called geostigma. Its cause lies in the life stream of the planet, which has been afflicted with some contagion. If that wasn’t enough, a trio of villains – Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz – have appeared wanting to gather Jenova’s cells to restore Sephiroth to life. Cloud Strife, who has been living in seclusion for two years, returns to Midgar to solve the mystery of geostigma and do whatever it takes to prevent his old nemesis from arising once again.

Plot

To keep things in perspective, I haven’t played Final Fantasy VII all the way through so some of the references will be lost on me. Still, I can comment – from a stand alone movie perspective – on some parts of the plot as I understood it. The main problem with the story is that it runs a little lean. Roughly a third or a half of the film is devoted to setting up the story, but once that’s done, you pretty much know how it’s going to end. It lacks the scale and depth of the stories from the games. Of course, there’s only so much you can cram in a feature length film, but when the actual storytelling gives way to over the top action right around the halfway mark, something wasn’t done correctly.

Despite a promising and well done introduction, Advent Children just wasn’t very involving, and the conclusion didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The issue of geostigma was dodged when it needed to be explained more thoroughly. One thematic element that the film tackled (which I wasn’t expecting) was the idea of sin and forgiveness, which culminates in an allegory to baptism at the end that was pretty nice.

The mythology and history from Final Fantasy VII wasn’t used to its fullest effect. However, it’s in this department that Advent Children jumps far ahead of its predecessor, The Spirits Within. Both films tried to ground the Final Fantasy universe in a viable reality, but where The Spirits Within felt almost completely devoid of that Final Fantasy touch, Advent Children does at least feel like part of the series.

The best part about this film is the action sets; they’re imaginative, exciting, and well shot for the most part. Some of the quick cuts and choreography are jarring, but they can be forgiven. A lot of the fights felt like they were played out in fast forward, and ended up looking a little odd, but Nomura Tetsuya’s sense of style and direction is solid.

As a film on its own, Advent Children suffers from many – some may say crippling – weaknesses, but the grand spectacle of a return to the Final Fantasy VII universe should be satisfying enough for most fans. For people who don’t appreciate the game on the same level, Advent Children is a little too nonsensical and desolate. There’s very little emotional involvement, with a narrative that’s sluggish and uninteresting. It may be a fine reminder of why people are so fond of Final Fantasy VII, but as a movie, it doesn’t deliver much more than a visual punch.

Characters

Unfortunately for those hoping for a reunion of the cast from Final Fantasy VII, Advent Children doesn’t pay off. Too much time is spent on the Turks and the antagonistic trio (Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz) for a film with precious little character play as it is. Fans of the game aren’t given too much to relate to besides Cloud, with Tifa and the rest making barely more than cameo appearances. The interactions and relationships developed through the game are lost, replaced by stilted dialogue and minimal characterization. This is probably the greatest injustice done to the fans, since it really is the characters that make or break a Final Fantasy game.

There’s not much to say about the cast of Advent Children. Cloud is stoic and duty-minded. Kadaj doesn’t give off an air of menace, and instead is played out more like a spoiled child with a hint of insanity. He’s probably the most irritating Final Fantasy villain I’ve ever come across. Tifa isn’t given enough to do. She’s protective of the children she lives with, but we don’t see how she’s grown or changed in the last two years, except for her dress. Nomura sacrificed a lot to work in his fight scenes, but it looks like he got his priorities mixed up.

Technical

What most people will notice about Advent Children right off the bat is its production value. The look of the film is polished, with the environments rendered in rich detail, and the character designs faithful to the originals. The new faces are sharp, clear, and instantly recognizable. As mentioned before, the action sequences are amazing to behold, taking on an energy that helps to engage the viewer. Suspension of disbelief is required, but even so, some of the fighting feels a bit too unreal. It’s also interesting to note that despite Nomura’s best attempt at not making his male characters look too feminine, he couldn’t resist the urge completely.

The sound production is good too, with Uematsu Nobuo heading up the score. A few tracks from the game are updated and integrated into the film, but the new tracks really caught my attention. Some of the music doesn’t fit with the scene, however. In the latter half of the film, the score switches from orchestrated pieces to electronic ones, which may not sit well with all viewers. I thought it was a good way to build up the climax, but it made the audio sound disjointed. Without too much nit picking, it’s safe to say that Advent Children is the most sophisticated production Square-Enix has put out so far.