Film Torments: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)

THIS TIME on Torments, Dan looks at the bastard child of a cultural milestone.

Final Fantasy VII was kind of a big deal. If you read my absurd two-part dissection of both the game and its zeitgeist-moulding impact, you’d (hopefully) have at least a vague idea of the scope of FFVII‘s cataclysmic influence. Developer Square-Enix knew more than anyone, which is why they’ve been milking their defining statement with an enthusiasm approaching obsession ever since. Never was this more apparent than the ill-conceived, poorly-implemented Compilation of Final Fantasy VII: a multi-media firestorm of bad ideas and revisionist ‘expansions’ to the FFVII universe.

Advent Children, a direct sequel to the events of the game, formed the vanguard of the initiative, proving it to be doomed from the start. Unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show in 2003 and released straight-to-DVD in 2005, the film is a disorienting trudge through the crushing reality of diminishing returns. Returning to the world of FFVII is a miserable, self-destructive venture; the film, much like the rest of the Compilation, does its utmost to erode the mystique of the original with convolution and banal ‘additions’ that, rather than broadening its scope, only serves to make the Planet seem tiny.

This is assuming you’ve played the game, of course. For the uninitiated – and even those who haven’t played it in a while – Advent Children is an incomprehensible melange of jargon and cryptic musings in undefined locales, its script littered with weird buzzwords and presumptions of the audience’s familiarity with them. It’s also loud, dumb and obnoxious, often resorting to flashy action sequences that tell us nothing of the characters’ thought processes or strategies or personalities; for all we can tell, they’re distant blurs of swords and shattered buildings, scored to heavy-metal remixes of the original’s soundtrack.

For what it’s worth, the plot kicks off two years after ‘Meteorfall’ – or, the ending of FFVII – with the Planet and its people struggling to adapt to a world without Shinra and Mako energy. Geo-stigma, a lethal degenerative disease, ravages the land and everyone is miserable – none moreso than Cloud who, afflicted by Geo-stigma, is a shell of his former self. Meanwhile, three silver-haired, leather-clad chaps appear to spread some chaos and reunite with Jenova, which inevitably leads our spiky-haired hero to face off with his nemesis, Sephiroth, one final time.

Condensing the plot of Advent Children into a single paragraph is a difficult task. There’s too much to unpack from the beautiful ambiguity of the original’s ending; it’s certainly a feat too great for writer Kazuhige Nojima, whose deft handling of the game’s themes and characters as scenario writer is nowhere to be found here. Instead, Advent Children falls over itself to establish its new concepts with recursive language that, while striving toward poetry, comes across as obtuse. The aforementioned leathery chums – Kadaj, Loz and Yazoo – and their vague relationship to Jenova and Sephiroth is only briefly touched upon, shrouding them in a mystery that never receives a resolution. That’s most of the film, really: intrigue that never pays off.

But a bad – or, at least, confusing – plot can be forgiven if the characters are strong enough. If we’ve learned anything from FFVII, it’s that its characters were (mostly) engaging, all equipped with their own unique deficiencies and triumphs. Put simply, the game has one of the strongest casts ever assembled for a videogame, and Advent Children chooses to discard 80% of them. This, at least, makes sense; sacrifices must be made when converting a 30 hour+ videogame into a two-hour feature film, which partially explains why the action is largely restricted to the outskirts of Midgar and the City of the Ancients. Unfortunately, neither the new nor the old characters are exciting, with most reduced to paler renditions of their original appearances or, worse yet, stock anime archetypes.

This is taken from the ‘Complete’ director’s cut, which adds 20 or so minutes of action sequences and Denzel flashbacks to the film. It’s a bit better.

Cloud is the greatest victim of the process. For all intents and purposes he’s a completely different character, his personality washed clean by the demands of introspective brooding. He’s a miserable charisma vacuum, a million miles away from the awkward, likeable goof who once declared, “Let’s mosey.” His arc in the film is a line from Point A – milquesop brood magnet – to Point B – milquesop powered by friendship. It’s a depressing simplification of a complicated character that, unfortunately, became the norm in his post-FFVII appearances.

That’s the fundamental issue with Advent Children, beyond its myriad individual problems: It does nothing to enhance the stature of the original and can’t exist in isolation from it. It has none of its urgency, gravitas or relevance, subsiding on empty references and flashy spectacle. Yes, the action sequences are visually arresting and brilliantly choreographed, particularly the motorcycle scenes and the battle with Bahamut (where the rest of the party finally shows up 20 minutes before the end). Yes, the CG animation remains stunning to this day, but it’s bluster propelled by action for the sake of action, lacking the narrative weight necessary to make its audience care.

Viewed independently of the game, it’s a confusing disaster. Viewed as a fan, it can only be classed as a disappointment and, at worst, creative bankruptcy, reducing a vibrant world to a single banal dimension. It, like the rest of the Compilation (yes, even Crisis Core) that followed, is a blemish on the legacy of a masterpiece that we’re all better off without.

But Sephiroth does look really cool.

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