Film Review: 'Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV'
When the announcement trailer for Final Fantasy Versus XIII premiered at E3 2006, it sent shockwaves throughout the gaming world. And ten years later, the since-retitled Final Fantasy XV is still as anticipated as ever, its release now just a few short months away. So I wouldn't have believed you if you told me all the way back then that I'd be watching the movie spin-off before playing the actual game.
Yet here we are with Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, a fully CGI, fantasy/sci-fi prelude to what will be an immense and epic video game. Taking place in the sprawling world of Eos almost entirely entirely under the rule of the empire of Niflheim - save for the small kingdom of Lucius - it's a film that features incredibly lifelike models, fantastical creatures, gaudy weapons and outfits, and spellbinding magic. There's a ton to unpack here - so much so that even the voice of fantasy mainstay Lena Headey (Game of Thrones' Cersei Lannister), who introduces us to this world, is not quite enough to captivate and entrance before this complex story sets in motion.
Essentially, Lucius is the final bastion in the world against Niflheim, and threatening negotiations force the Lucian King Regis (a well-casted Sean Bean) into peace negotiations, even if it isn't his preferred route. Underneath Regis is the Kingsglaive - an elite group of soldiers that serve and protect their king, notably identified by their fancy, hooded battle attire and their ability to warp to their weapons. Among them is Nyx Ulric (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul), who will work alongside the Lucian princess Lunafreya (Headey) to save their kingdom when the peace treaty predictably goes awry. In terms of scale and scope, Kingsglaive is easily he most ambitious Final Fantasy movie of them all.
But even with its A-list voice cast, the words "Final Fantasy movie" are enough to give some moviegoers and gamers a heart attack. Remember 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and how much of a letdown that was? I sure do. How about 2005's Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a convoluted cash-in on what is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time? Like most video game-to-movie adaptations, they were flops - lofty projects that looked great but failed to deliver on story.
Not surprisingly, Kingsglaive suffers the same fate. In spite of its absolutely fantastic CGI and its almost dreamlike world, there's very little to grab onto when characters are underdeveloped, the story is understandably confusing, and there's only about 30 minutes of truly captivating story. That's when the peace treaty between Niflheim and Lucius is set in motion, and the chess pieces between two sides are cleverly moved: King Regis attends the signing ceremony with the enemy king, Lunafreya is kidnapped, and Nyx and the Glaives come to the rescue when everything falls apart.
This is when the Kingsglaive becomes its most fun and most clear: it combines story-driven action with great characterization and heightened drama. It's just too bad that these 30 minutes are bookend by convoluted storytelling and a rush of plot points whose importance or significance is never made clear. It's easy to get lost in Kingsglaive, and not in the good way; so please don't mind the impossibly gigantic creatures, especially the fanged octopus.
Kingsglaive is so pandering to hardcore fans of the Final Fantasy series that you wonder if the movie truly served its purpose of bringing new fans to the game. Oftentimes, characters are introduced with little or no backstory, feuds are started that aren't resolved, and character arcs come to a grinding halt by the end of the film. Understandably, these are threads that will (hopefully) be completed once fans play through Final Fantasy XV, but these are frustrating to deal with when just watching the movie. Put that on top of disjointed pacing and lore so dense it requires an encyclopedia, and you have a movie that is rarely fun and mostly dulling.
At its core, Kingsglaive is just a two-hour trailer for a game I already knew I wanted. The movie critic in me didn't like that. But the gamer in me was here first, and he just ate it all up.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Written by Takashi Hasegawa.
Directed by Takeshi Nozue.
Starring Aaron Paul, Sean Bean, and Lena Headey.