There’s really no use in denying it. The simple truth about Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is that your enjoyment of the film will be almost entirely dependent on how well you knew and enjoyed Final Fantasy VII, the game.
If you’re the kind of person who has no idea who Aeris Gainsborough is, there’s a 99% chance that you can pass on this one and not really miss out. If you feel inclined, simply borrow it from one of your gamer friends.
However, if you’re like me, and the name Aeris brings a little catch to your throat, than you can probably stop reading this review, because you’ve probably already watched the movie several times. Heck, you’ve probably bought copies for friends.
Which leaves the two or three of you that don’t fall into either category. So by all means, please read on…
Advent Children takes place two years after the events of the game, with a little cutscene from Final Fantasy VII making a reappearance, just to ensure that the nostalgia starts flowing nice and early. The once-great city of Midgar still lies in ruins, but the citizens are slowly rebuilding. Life is slowly returning back to normal amidst the rubble, or so it seems. Unfortunately, a mysterious disease known as “geostigma” has begun afflicting the children of the city, many of whom were left orphans after the cataclysm that struck their home.
That cataclysm had been brought about by a man named Sephiroth. Once a powerful soldier employed by the Shin-Ra Corporation, the company that controlled Midgar, Sephiroth rebelled against Shin-Ra upon learning certain secrets of his past. Namely that he was the result of Shin-Ra experiments with an alien life-form named “Jenova.” After learning the truth of his existence, he became consumed with hatred towards all things, and almost brought about the planet’s destruction as a result.
The game’s protagonist, Cloud Strife, was able to kill Sephiroth, thus saving the world. But the ordeal took a tremendous strain on him, and now, several years later, he has left almost all of his compatriots behind. He lives a near-solitary life as a motorcycle courier, with his only contact being his childhood friend Tifa. Unknown to anyone else, he is also afflicted with “geostigma,” which appears to be the planet’s way of taking revenge after almost being destroyed.
Despite being a shell of what they once were, the Shin-Ra Corporation is still involved in shady dealings. Their latest endeavor has brought them into conflict with a group of powerful warriors led by a young man named Kadaj. Although their power gives Shin-Ra pause, the truly disturbing fact is that Kadaj bears some resemblance to Sephiroth, the man who almost destroyed the world.
Claiming to have the cure for “geostigma,” Kadaj rounds up all of Midgar’s afflicted children and convinces them to join his cause. Though burdened with doubt and guilt, Cloud agrees to confront Kadaj, hoping to atone for the sins of his past, and put down any threat of Sephiroth once and for all.
Although the movie is considerably more melodramatic than the game, what with Cloud’s constant self-inflicted guilt, there are constant flourishes throughout that are sure to bring smiles to the faces of the knowledgeable. Not only do we get to see familiar faces again — Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, Yuffie, Vincent, Cid, et al. — but many familiar trademarks from the games, such as limit breaks and materia all make an appearance. There’s even a clever use of the game’s “victory theme” that had me chuckling as soon as I heard those familiar tones.
I suppose there are some things about the movie that may appeal to the non-initiated. For starters, there’s the computer animation. Seeing as how this is Square-Enix we’re talking about, it shouldn’t surprising that the CGI work is uniformly impressive. There are still those problems that are inherent to the medium, namely that the characters can’t seem to fully escape the “uncanny valley” (in other words, they look so lifelike that they look kind of creepy at times). This is the same problem that hindered the previous Final Fantasy film, The Spirits Within, though Advent Children’s CGI is much more advanced and fluid than the previous movie’s.
The CGI is much more impressive during the battle scenes, which is about the only other selling point this film has once you strip away the nostalgic appeal. Advent Children boasts a number of action scenes that are, quite honestly, mind-boggling. From Tifa’s cathedral battle, which is over-the-top enough to make Trinity turn in her leather jacket, to Cloud’s motorcycle battles with Kadaj and his gang, the action is non-stop. This is doubly true of the movie’s two climactic fights.
The first involves Cloud reuniting with his friends to take on a monster summoned by Kadaj, which basically means all manner of aerial pyrotechnics that completely abandon the laws of physics (a common theme throughout the movie). And the final battle between Cloud and Kadaj, involves the two warriors slicing apart entire skyscrapers and half-ruined office buildings with their big-ass swords. Which only makes sense, I suppose.
Unfortunately, the battles are all edited within an inch of their lives, resulting in action scenes that are often a jumble of explosions, flashing swords, and energy beams. It can be exhilirating, or annoying, depending on your mood at the time. (I had the exact same problem with the frenetic action sequences in Karas: The Prophecy.)
In all honesty, and I mean this as no disrespect to the filmmakers, the only redeeming grace of Advent Children is the way in which it provides fans one more foray into the world of one of the most beloved and acclaimed video games of all time. Even Square-Enix realizes this, and put this message at the very beginning of the movie: “To those who loved this world and knew friendly company therein: this Reunion is for you.”
How successful was Square-Enix’ attempt at a reunion? Well, I quite honestly found the melodrama a little cheesy thanks to Cloud’s constant moping. And some of the battles became quite absurd after awhile. But sure enough, I did find myself getting a bit sobby and choked up by the movie’s end.
Maybe it was the music, the unremitting Aeris flashbacks (make sure to watch the credits for yet one or two more), the familiar faces, the wave of nostalgia at all of the good times I had with the game, or some combination thereof, but it happened both times I watched the film. And I suspect it’ll happen pretty much every time I watch it from now on. So, to my mind, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was pretty much a success, incessant (and not entirely unwelcome) appeals to nostalgia notwithstanding.
However, if you’ve never scoured forums and websites trying to figure out how to resurrect Aeris, or lay awake at night trying to figure out Cloud and Tifa’s relationship, or considered the logistics of Cloud wielding such a huge sword with any measure of effectiveness, your mileage will almost certainly vary.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.