Hollywood has long struggled to make a true video game movie; this year’s earlier effort, Warcraft, fizzled out critically (EW’s Chris Nashawaty compared it to “being bludgeoned on the head with a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual for 123 minutes”). Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV takes a slightly different approach. Instead of trying to adapt the video game experience into a film format, Kingsglaive transforms the movie-going experience into something familiar to video game fans. It’s essentially a really long cutscene.
Designed to introduce fans to the world of Final Fantasy XV, due out later this year, Kingsglaive is set mostly in the fantasy country of Lucis, the only sovereign land to have withheld the iron-fisted rule of the Niflheim Empire. That’s thanks to King Regis (Sean Bean) and a magic crystal whose power he redistributes into an elite fighting force known as the Kingsglaive. As the film opens, however, it’s clear that even the high-flying heroics of Kingsglaive star fighter Nyx Ulric (Aaron Paul) won’t be enough to withstand Niflheim’s magical might for much longer. The king is aging and his power is flagging, so he agrees to marry his son Prince Noctis to Princess Lunafreya (Lena Headey), a royal from one of Niflheim’s occupied territories, as part of a peace deal with the empire.
Although he is often mentioned and flagged as being important, Noctis never actually appears in the film. That’s presumably because he’s the protagonist of Final Fantasy XV, and Square Enix wants to save the good stuff for the game itself. Much of Kingsglaive, in fact, is little more than set up for the video game. It introduces fans to the game’s world (almost every Final Fantasy game has a slightly different setting), and what a beautiful world it is. It retains much of modern technology, though with fascinating twists. There are cars and highways and TV news anchors, but also magic crystals and sword-wielding generals and militaries that summon demons as weapons. It seems like a world that would be a lot of fun to run around in, rather than simply watch pass in the background.
Recognizable voices like Paul, Headey, and Bean go a long way toward making the thin material somewhat compelling, though even that can get confusing. An old king voiced by Bean sends mixed signals about his ultimate fate, and Headey is by now so recognizable as Game of Thrones’ scheming queen Cersei Lannister that it’s somewhat disorienting to hear her voice coming from such a young, good-hearted princess.
The movie’s visuals basically offer a deep dive into the Uncanny Valley. These CGI figures are fine enough to watch for five minutes in between game levels, but stretched out to a nearly two-hour run time, they really start to falter. The characters look less and less realistic the more time you spend with them, and there are lots of disorienting fades and cuts between scenes. Much of the action is hard to follow, what with the rapid-fire teleporting (the Kingsglaive’s tactic of choice) and numerous soldiers that look identical to each other. Really, in an entirely CGI world, is it too much to ask for some variety in skin color, body builds, or outfits?
Now that Final Fantasy XV itself is delayed an extra two months, Kingsglaive should whet the appetites of hungry fans. But for the average moviegoer, it’ll prove a pretty hollow experience. C+