Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, one of the first widely-marketed big-budget CG movies (complete with famous American cast) was released some five years ago. Based on the Final Fantasy series of videogames, it was supposed to impress both fans and newcomers with its remarkable visuals and mythical storyline, but ended up being a little disappointing, mostly in terms of monetary returns. I actually quite enjoyed the production, but I can see why it was perhaps not quite worth the immense cost. Now, from the Final Fantasy franchise, we get Advent Children, a follow-up to the Final Fantasy VII video game instalment.
It is several years since the malevolent Shinra Corporation was obliterated. The Earth's Essence, it's Lifestream, was being channelled by Shinra in order to provide energy for the planet, but nature itself rose up and suffocated the Corporation. Cloud, once a soldier anda warrior, is amongst the survivors in the war-torn wilderness, where everybody has been left scarred by a horrible Geostigma which spreads across their bodies. Life is far from calm and quite for Cloud, who is confronted by a group of Remnants, led by the twisted Kadaj who wants to find his mother Genova and use her power to take revenge on the planet itself.
It is up to Cloud, his girlfriend Tifa and his old warrior colleagues to take down Kadaj before he unleashes hell on Earth by uniting the Advent Children of the title, who are so desperate to cure their afflicting stigma that they will even follow a twisted soul like Kadaj. He hopes to bring them together in order to unlock his mother, Genova's, spirit. Will Cloud be able to stop him?
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is, at least visually, one of the most advanced animations in existence, comparable to the like of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Technology has evolved exponentially, even in the five years since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was released and the result is breathtaking. The fight sequences are well-conceived and blisteringly fast, the battles themselves increasingly grand in scale. There are plenty of memorable set-pieces - many of which take place on the versatile motorbikes that the central protagonists commandeer - including a fantastic tunnel battle, a multi-person rage across the rooftops against an immense beast, a frantic forest fight and several closing confrontations reminiscent of the epic final battle in the disappointing Matrix Revolutions (although limitlessly bigger in scale). Basically, Advent Children looks fantastic and is, visually, totally immersive.
Story-wise I found the narrative only mildly confusing as a viewer oblivious to the Final Fantasy video game lore. It is largely standalone in nature (although more of a background into key characters like Cloud and the kick-ass rebel soldier Sephiroth would have been useful) and carries solid stories-within-stories which will have you eager to see what happens next. The vocal actors are not particularly famous, with two notable exceptions: Antitrust's Rachael Leigh Cook (who plays the kick-ass heroine Tifa) and American Beauty's Mena Suvari, but the whole cast nevertheless do a good job in their respective roles.
Is there a downside then to this visually opulent, solidly-scripted production? Well, despite the battles being well-designed and often epic in proportion, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it fight sequences are often a little bit too fast, even with your suspended disbelief dialled up to the max. I remember thinking the same thing during the Blade 2 fight where Blade takes on two night-vision-wearing vamps in a battle set against a backdrop of blazing 'daylight' lamps. It's one thing for fights to be fast, but when bodies move and twist in ways that truly betray their CG nature, it does become that much harder to take seriously (something both Matrix sequels also suffered from). It's a relatively minor quibble when you consider the quality of this production, but it is worth noting.
Overall, if you like your animated featuret films, particularly your Manga, or if you are notably interested in the Final Fantasy productions, then this new movie - Advent Children - should be at the top of your viewing list.
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