Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Like virtually every other gamer on the face of planet, I own a copy of Final Fantasy VII. I tried to get into it several years ago when all the popular gaming sites hailed it as the best role-playing game ever. The gameplay never drew me in, and so while I have a passing familiarity with its characters, it was never something I thought much about after trying it for several hours. I saw Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within back when it hit theaters. Like many, I didn't think it had much of a plot but thought it looked spectacular. Several years later, I'm back taking a look at Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. It acts as a direct sequel to the story found in the game while sharing the brilliant computer-generated animation of its film predecessor (with whom it shares no plot). And make no mistake, fans of the game will love this movie.  No, in fact, they will probably adore this movie, seeing just how lovingly made it is. But as someone who was just vaguely familiar with the whole thing coming into it, I found it almost completely incomprehensible.

To sum up the game: crap happened to Cloud and his friends. Cloud, the one with the inconceivably huge sword, saved his planet from absolute destruction at the hands of madman Sephiroth. Along the way, however, friends were lost, prices were paid, and identities came shattering down. Now there's a pathogen that's caustically affecting the skin of the planet's people, especially the children, and no one's sure how to cure it. In the midst of this epidemic, a cruel gang of ruffians hatches a plan to revive Sephiroth and his aborted plans for carnage and chaos. Cloud's once again called upon to save the world, but he's quite sure he no longer wants to be the hero. As Cloud's old friends rally around to try and engage him in the cause, he must decide whether he's going to mope through the rest of life or engage his destiny.

Now, before getting into the reasons why you should probably skip this film, there's something I should say: find a friend who owns a copy, borrow it, and start it about the 55 minute mark.  That way, you can see the absolutely amazing animation during one of the best scenes in the film. Frankly, CGI animation has never been done better. Even the technically impressive Spirits Within doesn't look half as good as this. The detail on various surfaces is so good that the DVD looks like Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. With the sound turned up on a 5.1 system, you can get immersed in one of the most visually astounding pieces of animation you've ever seen. And for perhaps 15 minutes, you will be awestruck. Any animation fan should see the highlights of Advent Children just to revel in the possibilities.

But before you get too excited, realize that I still thought this film was a major disappointment. I could handle some of the absurdities that naturally had to be transferred over from the game (like Cloud's aforementioned behemoth of a weapon). But what I couldn't handle is the plotting department, which seems to figure that everyone who watches this film will be thoroughly aware of what has come before. That's understandable in the third part of a filmic trilogy, I suppose; for example, if you don't know who Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are by the time you see Return of the Jedi, you're not going to get much backstory. But we're talking about completely different mediums here. The only way to have experienced the full plot of Final Fantasy VII was to have spent well over 40 hours playing the game. Most casual gamers don't put in that kind of time. What's more, the plot that is here really isn't very worthwhile. I mean, all it really consists of is a plan to resurrect the game's villain, which isn't a scripting masterpiece. The movie is a long coda that gives a final warm and fuzzy sendoff to Cloud, who didn't get his own happy ending at the conclusion of the game. The action is a veneer to hide the fact that there's little story here. To top that off is the use of terminology that's never explained. If you've played the game and know what the lightstream/lifestream is and can figure out all the vocabulary, I'm happy for you. But for the novice, the dialogue was indecipherable. The only clues to understanding much of the language came from the simplicity of the overall storyline.

I could forgive most of that, but the thing that sent Advent Children into the realm of the "not recommended" was the fact that I just didn't care about these characters. Every last character arc of merit took place in the game already. The movie just assumes that you are already in love with these folks and know what has happened to them...but the average person isn't and doesn't. It's one thing to have a plot that's lacking, but to have characters that are ciphers is unforgivable. Quite honestly, I've never been so bored by a movie with this much action going on, and it was because it didn't matter what happened to the players involved. Even in the most basic of action films, say The Transporter, the lead character has charisma enough to make you interested in seeing if he's going to succeed or not. Cloud has so little stage presence, so to speak, that if he lives or dies matters little.

That doesn't mean this experience has to be a total failure, of course. The easiest thing to do would be for the creators of this movie to go back and tell the right story, the one that drew in millions around the globe, in feature film form. Yes, I would recommend them make a true Final Fantasy VII movie that gets us up to speed on this tale. Sure, the DVD of Advent Children includes a 30+ minute "reminiscence" on the story of the game, but it's nearly as incomprehensible as the film itself. It's nothing more than some of the cutscenes from the game, which now looks pretty threadbare in terms of graphics. They should do it right and make the big story a full feature; then perhaps Advent Children would be worth recommending to a larger audience who wants more substance than eye candy.

Until that point, however, this film is a wonderful-looking curiosity that will bore all but the faithful who waded through the whole game. And if you are one of those folks who did and are angry with this review, don't send me any nasty letters.  You know you already bought this film the first weekend it came out anyway in the special edition with all the character statues and trinkets and doodads anyway. This review's for the rest of us who might find the movie visually stunning but too boring otherwise to merit anything more than a passing glance.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children -- violence, brief profanity -- C+