Kingsglaive – a sprawling, nearly two-hour CG animated movie meant to serve as a narrative appetizer to this November’s epic role-playing game Final Fantasy XV – is no easier to follow than if you were running alongside a speeding train as a narrator shouted details at you from the window.
Let’s discuss establishing a fictional mythology using, say, Star Wars as an example. Star Wars set the tone right off the bat for the sweeping, multi-part epic to come. When the rebel soldiers scurry behind crates, entrenching themselves in that corridor for the battle to come, you know they’re a unified group. Then, if there was any question as to which side they’re on, the blast doors open and an outpouring of stormtroopers flood the corridor with return fire. Then, George Lucas puts an exclamation point on the scene when Darth Vader cruises in, dressed head-to-toe in black, accompanied by John Williams’ menacing score. Good guys, meet bad guys.
Kingsglaive is starving for that kind of coherence. The kingdom of Lucis has been slowly losing ground in the war against the sinister Niflheim, but is seemingly safe in its last bastion, the city of Insomnia (don’t ask, it’s Final Fantasy) thanks to a Hogwarts-esque magical shield that covers the city. As a result of this stalemate, an emissary from the Niflheim empire arrives in Lucis to negotiate a peace treaty. Kingsglaive’s main protagonist Nyx (ably voiced by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) is tasked with guarding the visiting Lunafreya (Lena Headey), a long-lost member of the Tenebrae royal family. Meanwhile, despite taking place in a fantasy world, you’re subjected to some baffling product tie-ins that stick out like sore thumbs – a poster cameo for arcade classic, Darius from Japanese publisher (and Square Enix subsidiary) Taito might get a pass, but the likes of Beats by Dre, Cup Noodle, UNIQLO, and Japan Airlines certainly won’t.
Square Enix doesn’t have a great track record with its CG epics. The company’s first effort, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), was a decent sci-fi film by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, but offered precious little evidence that it had anything to do with the seminal Japanese RPG series. The straight-to-video Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, co-directed by Final Fantasy VII artist Tetsuya Nomura (best known for working on the Disney crossover Kingdom Hearts), offered non-stop fan service along with some preposterous set pieces, but was otherwise bloodless and bereft of tension. Designed primarily as an excuse to cash in on Final Fantasy VII‘s enduring popularity, Advent Children mostly served to remind everyone that what thrills in small doses (like CG cutscenes) quickly outstays its welcome when stretched out over an hour and a half. Kingsglaive offers no counter-argument.
Director Takeshi Nozue (co-director on Advent Children) paints Kingsglaive‘s chaotic, opening mise-en-scene with all the eye-melting luxury the CG brush allows, to its detriment. Warriors teleport through the air, everything explodes in a cascade of smoke and debris, but it’s not immediately clear who the protagonists are.
Then there are the names. Perhaps the hardest part of understanding the world of Kingsglaive is comprehending what everyone is called, as every name is such a ridiculous mouthful. The king, for example, is Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII. You’re then rapidly introduced to other characters (with all the subtlety of a defibrillator) that go by Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, Nyx Ulric, Iedolas Aldercapt, Titus Drautos, Ardyn Izunia and Libertus Ostium. It’s not just learning a new cast of characters, it’s like learning an all-new language on the fly. There are only three names that will actually matter going into Final Fantasy XV, though: Noctis (who doesn’t even appear until the post-credits scene), Regis (his father), and Lunafreya (his would-be bride).
The movie’s climax is unsurprisingly rife with action, as towering behemoths spring to life and battle it out in the middle of Insomnia. Kudos to anyone watching who can keep up with what’s happening on first viewing, however, as the nausea-inducing camerawork is like watching the film while sticking your finger in an electrical outlet.
It’s not often that a video game gets the benefit of a two hour cutscene to establish backstory. As an introduction to a game, it’s pretty unique. As an actual movie, it’s got all the pacing issues of a student driver learning stick for the first time. Kingsglaive is filled with too much spectacle, too little exposition, and several waves of pointless betrayal.
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