I've been a fan of Square Enix's Final Fantasy games since the first one hit the NES in 1990, indulging in every major release from that point on. None of that helped me understand what the heck was going on in Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, which is based on the hotly anticipated game. That could be because I'm not wholly familiar with that branch of the series, which is wildly different from the one most came to love with Final Fantasy VII and was replicated in the excellent movie, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. But Kingsglaive is not 'Advent Children'. It may boast similarly crisp CGI visuals but the oddly-defined world and bland array of characters makes this a movie only the most die-hard fans will love.
The best comparison that can be made is, sadly, Square's greatest shame: the 2001 mega-bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, an expensive debacle that crushed the company and forced them to merge with Enix just to stay alive. Kinsgslaive isn't quite as detached from the franchise, but it references characters, places, and events nobody could possibly know about unless they are already full invested. Since the events run parallel to a game that won't be out for weeks, Square Enix has been offering bits of information about the world, which eager players have been devouring. Newcomers will be left scratching their heads and bored by the convoluted Game of Thrones-esque plotting, though. Appropriately enough the film begins with some dense narration by Princess Lunafreya (Lena Headey) about the war between the peaceful land of Lucis, led by King Regis (Sean Bean), and their enemies, Niflheim, a realm of dark magic and robotic warriors. Regis' military consists of the Kingsglaive, a forced led by the film's ostensible hero (he actually refers to himself as such), Nix Ulrich (Aaron Paul), who shows off his impressive skills in a gigantic battle between the warring factions.
While watching that huge showdown you often wish this was all the movie was. The same way the highly cinematic cut scenes in the Final Fantasy video games are often the best part, that goes for the action in Kingsglaive. The opening battle has everything a fan of the series could want: explosive magical spells, terrifying creatures, robots, airships, and daring heroes, all depicted in gloriously rich computer animation leaps and bounds ahead of 'The Spirits Within'. It's not unfair to say choreographed warfare is massive on the scale of the recent Warcraft movie, with just as many different kind of colorful CGI combatants. Characters no longer look like zombies, but there's still the problem of having the voices match their physical movements. For instance, Aaron Paul is an extremely spirited actor and that comes through in his voice work, but Nix's body language doesn't reflect the same level of emotion.
The screenplay is, unfortunately, about as good as you'd find in a typical video game cut scene, too, meaning it's pretty awful. Dialogue is cheesy and delivered with little enthusiasm by an A-list cast, who don't seem to understand what's going on either. So much information is dumped on us it's almost as if the filmmakers are more concerned with readying you for the game than telling a coherent story. When a truce is proposed between Lucis and Niflheim, one that would see Lunafreya married to Noctis, son of King Regis, it's tough to care because he's barely in the movie because his story unfolds in the game...which we can't play. There isn't even the attempt to pretend this is for anybody but the fanboys, who will understand why such a futuristic dystopia has people in it driving our sports cars and wearing our hoodies. What kind of world is this? Can we get an explanation? Don't bother. It shouldn't be necessary. Is it too much to ask for a Final Fantasy movie to stand on its own and tell a complete tale from start to finish? Kingsglaive's sole purpose is teasing Final Fantasy XV and if you have no interest in spending hundreds of hours of your life playing it, then don't even bother.
Rating: 2 out of 5