Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV—See It, Before You Play It

If your only familiarity with the Final Fantasy RPG video game and anime franchise is through Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the film that introduced computer generated Maxim model Aki Ross to the world, this will be something completely different. Technically, it will be all new for diehard fans as well, but they understand that is how the series rolls. The fifteenth game installment has not even released yet, but it already has its tie-in anime feature. There will indeed be crystals, tragic deaths, and a supertanker’s load of fighting in Takeshi Nozue’s Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Like Spirits Within, Kingsglaive employs motion capture animation—and it has come a long way since 2001. Frankly, there are times XV could pass for live action. Seriously. (It also ties into the web series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy, which is rendered in a more traditional big-eyed anime style). While Spirits Within was pretty hardcore dystopian science fiction, Kingsglaive freely blends fantasy and sf elements, but franchise fans seem to dig that.

Regis Lucis Caelum rules over the kingdom of Lucis with the aid of a magical crystal (a regular FF motif). Through its power, he invests his elite guard, the Kingsglaive, with magical abilities, including a limited form of teleportation via special batarang-like throwing weapons that they can essentially catch a ride on, in their de-materialized forms.

Unfortunately, even with all their magic, Lucis has been losing ground to the forces of the Nifflheim Empire and its weaponized dragons. Yet, just when Lucis seems to be down for the count, the Empire offers them a truce. The terms are not great, but they could be worse. As part of their concessions, the King’s son Noctis Lucis Caelum must marry Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the captive princess of the subjugated Tenebrae people. Lucis and Tenebrae have been on bad terms ever since the Empire conquered the latter. The Palpatine-esque Nifflheim Emperor was hoping to trap Regis during his state visit there, but the King escaped leaving his hosts high and dry. Not surprisingly, in the hours leading up to the treaty-signing ceremony, dedicated Kingsglaive warrior Nyx Ulric uncovers evidence of Nifflheim duplicity. To thwart their plans, Ulric will try to rescue their unwitting pawn, the Princess. Or something like that. The whole plot business gets decidedly murky.

Arguably, Kingsglaive might be the truest cinematic adaptation of a video game, but it also might most closely approximate the experience of watching the game being playing. At times the action is an absolutely head-spinning spectacle, in the best and worst sense. The initial battle sequences look strikingly realistic, wildly exceeding viewer expectations. Yet ironically, as the explosions get bigger, the visceral impact diminishes.

Still, you have to give any film credit that takes a dim view of appeasement as a geo-political-military strategy. Granted, in this case, it is more complicated than that, but trusting a repressive regime like the Nifflheim remains a profoundly bad idea. Plus, any fantasy world that includes kaiju and Audi roadsters definitely establishes a cool baseline. Even though it eventually becomes awash in fiery combustion, the mo-cap animation is genuinely impressive. Ordinarily, we would prefer to experience the original Japanese voice actors with subtitles, but the casting of Game of Thrones alumni Sean Bean and Lena Headey as King Regis and Princess Lunafreya is quite canny. It is an odd film, whose raison d’être is admittedly to hype the upcoming game release, yet its world building is richly immersive and intriguing. Recommended for franchise fans, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV opens this Friday (8/19) in New York, at the AMC Empire.