Eerily androgynous characters aside, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a blatant cash in on the Final Fantasy name. Not only do the marketing executives know that VII is the most popular Final Fantasy, but they have filled the movie with, get this, product placement. Yes, in the alternate world that is Final Fantasy VII, apparently Panasonic is alive and well, and cell phone coverage extends to the barren wastelands. Square Enix spares no opportunity to give you a close-up of the (waterproof) cell phones the characters use, playing the ring tones nice and clear, lest you forget which one to buy the next time you are in the store.
This direct-to-video release certainly is impressive from a technical sense although the 2001 film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within feels superior in many ways. Skin for the characters in Advent Children feels like an unreal plastic over robotic skeleton, placing them in the heart of the uncanny valley. Flowing hair and fabric is abundant but feels as if it all is made of the same insubstantial material yet can resemble a sweater, ribbon, hair or robes. The pseudo-realistic sense is unnerving as the movie attempts to be photo-realistic but never quite makes it there; instead, the movie is at its strongest when it leaves reality squarely behind it. Creatures are fantastical and monstrous, as if the imagination of the artists sprung forth in digital form.
Likewise, when the bonds of reality are broken, fight sequences can take place as perfectly choreographed super-heroic action-fests such as the Square Enix animated sequence in the Animatrix. You quickly understand that the physical laws of our world are meant to be shattered by these characters as they run up walls, obliterate stone columns with their bare hands, slide face-first across the asphalt and come out with their plastic Barbie-doll complexion unscathed. The mythic feats and slow-motion enhanced fights make the Matrix look like a documentary, and that’s when the movie hits its stride. In order to enjoy the movie, leave your sense of reality behind and watch the girly-girly super man ballet.
Overall, one has to wonder about the future of Square Enix. They have certainly turned into an animation powerhouse over the last few years, taking their flair for the fantastic and bringing it to the small screen. What does it say about the company though, and the respect for its characters, when it begins to blatantly cash in on them? The trend began with the cheeky and forgettable X2 sequel to Final Fantasy X. What started as a way to spit out a quick sequel using the art and assets from Final Fantasy X has turned into a corporate-wide policy. Expect to see every single tie-in one can imagine, and even those that you can’t imagine, such as Final Fantasy VII Snowboarding for cell-phones. Yes, it is sadly true. What works for cartoony characters such as Sonic and Mario, placing them in wacky games like Mario Kart and Sonic Riders, feels downright wrong for characters promoted as deep and serious.
The most telling scene from the movie has to be when scores of kids drink purple Kool-aid turning them into mindless zombies that see the world through slit-eyes, ready to kill for the ultra-feminine antihero. No doubt, over the next few days you will see reviews from fans of the original game. They’ll rave about how much they love seeing each of their favorite old characters back in action. They’ll devour every nuance of costume change and each new weapon. They’ll strain to control their bowels at the completely over-the-top action sequences and they’ll tell you how deep the extensive monologues are. They have also consumed a deep draught from the well of purple Kool-aid and are blind to the fact that Square Enix is whoring their dreams for a few lousy dollars and a cell phone with Final Fantasy VII ringtones.