Kingsglaive – Final Fantasy XV is directed by Takeshi Nozue and stars Aaron Paul, Lena Headey and Sean Bean (in the English release) among others. It serves as a companion to the upcoming Final Fantasy XV video game, helping set the scene and introducing some of the politics that will undoubtedly play a greater role in the game. The movie follows the story of King Regis Lucis and the Kingsglaive, an elite group of soldiers who fight exclusively for Regis using both magic and technology. In the film, the empire of Niflheim has conquered much of the known world and are now beginning to encroach upon the free Kingdom of Lucis. Lucis’ capital city, Insomnia, has managed to resist conquest till now thanks to the the power of a magic crystal, which has domed the city with an magical shield, protecting it thus-far from all invasive attempts. However, outside the city, the Kingsglaive fight to protect the surrounding regions of Insomnia from Niflheim but are routinely pushed back due to the sheer size of the Nif forces. Knowing that so long as the crystal remains in Insomnia it will be impossible to take the city by force, the Emperor of Niflheim sends his chancellor to negotiate terms of peace. The terms require King Regis to forfeit all lands in Lucis beyond Insomnia to the Emperor and in return the Emperor will allow Insomnia to exist as a sovereign state, untouched by the Empire. Of course, things aren’t as simple as that.
This is one of those films that has gained itself a very polarized set of opinions among its audience, mostly pitting professional critics against moviegoers. It currently holds an aggregate of 7% on Rotten Tomatoes while simultaneously maintaining 7.4/10 on IMDb and 4.6/5 on iTunes. By the former metric this would seem to be one of the worst movies ever made. Unfortunately the rating system on Rotten Tomatoes is not perfect, it only tells you whether a critic liked or disliked a particular film (they don’t tell you how much a critic liked/disliked a film). I must confess that I fall more in line with the fans than I do with the critics. There are several things wrong with Kingsglaive but ultimately I can’t deny the fun I had watching this film. Let me see if I can elaborate on why that is.
Let’s start with the negatives. Kingsglaive doesn’t have much going for it in terms of originality. Aside from some world-building aspects unique to the Final Fantasy franchise Kingsglaive is largely a bag of cliches and contrivances. Sony is not making much of an effort to hide the fact that Kingsgalive is really meant to be a giant marketing campaign for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. As such, those who do not possess even an inkling of the lore or world-building will, understandably, be left in the dark. This has always been the problem with Final Fantasy films, all the way from Spirits Within. They are made with the primary intention to please the fans first, then the critics. As a result, those uninitiated with FF lore will often find the burden of understanding too cumbersome. When a good science fiction film introduces a new world to us it does so in such a way as to ease the viewer into its world-building. It begins with the familiar and then layers one thing on top of another. Final Fantasy films, however, take for granted the fact that most of its viewers are fans of the series or will have at-east played the games. Those who haven’t, however, will be left scratching their heads about what ‘magitek’ is or why the crystals have such power.
Kingsglaive provides us with a brief, tenuous explanation delivered via a voice-over at the beginning of the film, setting the stage for what is to come. But it’s so rushed, we are given a barrage of recounts about various events without being told anything about the motivations behind these events. Why is Niflheim conquering all the nations (besides simply doing what empires do)? Why is Prince Noctis in a wheel-chair? What is this Tenebrae? Why is it under attack? These were just some of the questions that buzzed around in my mind during the beginning of the film. But they don’t stop there. Not much context is given for much of what happens in the movie. Things just happen and we are asked to just accept it and continue admiring the pretty visuals. If you haven’t been keeping up with Final Fantasy XV, then that is all you can do. Often times it feels like a series of well-produced cut-scenes being strung together for two hours, somehow you feel you are missing the greater picture. The problem with such a poorly explained premise is that it becomes effortlessly easy for the filmmakers to shoehorn in plot conveniences. Without giving too much away, the ending is literally a Deus ex machina.
So with a messy plot, it would fall upon the characters to carry the weight of the film. Unfortunately, much of the characters are uninteresting. The main protagonist, Nyx Ulric, is your typical action hero, he has a dark past (only hinted, never explored, mind you), he’s good with magic and weapons and he’s rough around the edges (perpetual stubble-beard included). He’s Jason Statham’s character from The Transporter, he’s Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil 4, he’s Bruce Willis from Surrogate. My point is he’s a mix of typical action hero stereotypes with nothing defining to help set him apart. If I am to concede something to his credit I appreciate the filmmakers not turning Nyx into an overly serious, angst-ridden bloke. The other characters also come across as wasted potential. King Regis is noble to a fault, Nyx’s close friend, Libertus, is the overly emotional one, Luche, the practical one.
Speaking of wasted potential, the female characters in the movie are basically afterthoughts. At the start we are introduced to a competent magic user named Crowe. She seems interesting until the movie summarily kills her off not 20 minutes in. The only other female character is Princess Lunafreya. Where do I even begin? All through the movie Lunafreya is tossed from one party to the other like a rag-doll. The only thing she seems to do is attract more trouble. She does try to help Nyx and the others but constantly keeps failing, requiring either Nyx or one of the other characters to come to her rescue. Even at the end of the film, when you think she’s about to do something substantial, when you begin to think that all the messing around was leading up to something, she is quickly ushered away from the scene of conflict like a celebrity when their fans get too unruly. Speaking of the end, don’t expect to have your questions answered when the movie concludes. You are supposed to have questions, this is because the film is clearly set up to bait fans into wanting to buy the game come November.
However, that’s not to say Kingsglaive is all bad. To call Kingsglaive a pretty movie would be a massive understatement, this is a gorgeous film with beautifully rendered set-pieces, a unique art style and some impressive, awe-inspiring fight sequences. Being a film made entirely using CG you don’t have problems such as lack of shot continuity and bad lighting. As a result, you get a film with a great deal of visual consistency. There will be moments where you will forget that you are watching a CG animation. The level of detail on the characters are also worth mentioning, with faces and hair models that look utterly convincing. The voice acting too is mostly well done. Sean Bean and Aaron Paul give fantastic performances as King Regis and Nyx respectively. Lena Headey also delivers a great performance as Princess Lunafreya. The voice work of the supporting cast are often hit-or-miss, however, with some being good, like that of Libertus, and other being mediocre or overcompensating, like the Chancellor of Niflheim. The musical score was also great, in my opinion, even though it’s mostly a typical action movie soundtrack, without any stand-out track to speak of, it serves its purpose well. The action scenes are very impressive, especially during the climactic face-off between Nyx and the imposing General Glauca.
The plot makes this movie seem like the kind I’d abandon half-way though, but I kept watching, intrigued (and even engrossed, dare I say) solely because of three things, the visuals, the voice acting and the action. Having played Final Fantasy VI and Tactics Advanced, not all of the references and lore was lost on me, which I’m sure helped improve the experience (though I was sorely disappointed with the complete and utter lack of Chocobos). If you are a long-time fan of Final Fantasy or you know enough about the lore and how things work you will find this film enjoyable, there are numerous hidden easter-eggs and nods to prior Final Fantasy games (including one particular sequence that’ll take FFVI fans way back). However, if you are completely new to the franchise and are watching this hoping it’ll be its own, self-contained, self-explanatory story, you will be left confused and disappointed. I personally had fun watching this film despite the numerous problems mentioned. For fans, this is something worth viewing, helping add some backstory to Final Fantasy XV, but for others this is nothing more than an overblown marketing campaign and as such not worth much more.
My Score: 3/5