The Lifestream is the name we call the living flow of energy that courses throughout the planet. It flows through every living thing, from the tiniest ant to the tallest tree, and even through people like you and me. When a person is born, they come from the Lifestream… And when people die, their souls return to it. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the Lifestream can also be harvested. The Shinra Company, the people who first discovered this, found a way to convert it into Mako energy. It powered our technology, lit our lights, and made our lives comfortable, but at a heinous price… The planet only had a finite amount of Lifestream to offer, and we were draining it dry, slowly killing it for our own benefit. Fearing for the future of humanity, a small group of heroes banded together to stand up to Shinra, which inadvertently drew them into a much larger conflict involving Shinra’s shadier practices… A former soldier, Sephiroth, the unholy result of an infusion of both Mako and the cells of an ancient alien, soon entered the conflict.
The battles they waged, the journey they endured, and the consequences they faced would become the material of legend… But in the end, it was the planet itself that saved us from extinction, stopping the advance of a giant meteor mere inches before it could make contact with the ground. Maybe it was their failure that angered it… Maybe it was our arrogance. Maybe it was the fact that our so-called heroes actually stopped Shinra from trying to destroy the meteor to save us. Whatever the reason, a new disease was born shortly after their story ended… It’s called Geostigma, and while it’s exact nature is unclear, it’s related in some genetic way to the ancient alien, Jenova. It’s claimed many lives so far… Men, women, and children have been wasting away while this strange flesh consuming disease spread across their bodies faster than any illness ever known to us. The future of our species, once believed to be saved, is more uncertain than it ever has been. With new threats coming seemingly out of nowhere, will our heroes, now scattered to the wind, be able to unite in time to stop the revival of Sephiroth and cure Geostigma? Or is the time of man truly coming to an end?
Unlike most anime, this movie wasn’t actually made by any known anime production company… It was animated by Square Enix, the owners of the Final Fantasy games, which of course get more and more visually impressive with each release(over-all quality notwithstanding). It’s also probably the best looking CG anime I’ve ever seen, which wouldn’t be saying much if it wasn’t for the fact that it was animated in 2005, and even the most recent CG anime releases… such as Oblivion Island and Knights of Sidonia… Look like creepy, frozen-faced marionette garbage. It’s really easy to attribute visual quality in animation to budget, but then you have to look at films like the Berserk Golden Age Trilogy, which had gobs of money to spare, but was so poorly directed that they almost appeared to be over-animated. I don’t know off-hand whether or not Advent Children had a budget that was comparable to the Berserk movies, but it looks infinitely better. It’s insane to think this movie is twelve years old, with just how wonderfully articulate and expressive the character’s faces are. They even look believably Japanese, a surprising rarity in the anime medium.
The film’s visual quality gets even more impressive when you remove the comparison to the anime medium, however, because I’m not even kidding when I say that it’s visual production quality puts Pixar to shame. Remember Wall-E, the movie where a little robot roams all alone through a deserted planet full of garbage and debris? The ruins of Midgar alone take this idea to an extreme, as you can make out each and every piece of garbage and twisted scrap metal in stunning detail, sometimes even in shots that only last a few seconds. Every single piece of fabric moves accurately in regard to it’s make-up, from wool to leather, the framing is nothing short of professional, and this is probably the only animated entity I’ve ever seen where everybody’s hair looks and moves like actual hair. Considering how the popular company Rooster Teeth has huge problems with character’s hair clipping into them, and even Disney has to simplify hair design just to make ends meet, this is one aspect of animation where Advent Children is ahead of a time that hasn’t even happened yet. The backgrounds and depth of field are breath taking, the combat is fast and easy to follow(at least in the Complete edition), and the characters move so fluidly that it’s not hard to forget you’re watching motion capture and not real people. Even Rogue One, a movie released a few short months ago, had trouble making CG people look this good.
As for the music, do I even have to say anything? Advent Children’s music was composed by the same man who’s name was attached to every Final Fantasy game so far save for Thirteen, with many of the tracks from the original seventh game brought back, some of which have been given kick-ass theatrical enhancements. Yeah, Nobuo Uematsu accomplished a lot under the heavy limits of video game soundtracks at the time FF7 came out, but with a full orchestra at his disposal, I can’t help but imagine that the tunes in this movie were what was going through his mind when he was composing the original, simpler versions. If nothing else, this movie is worth watching just for the new and enhanced versions of One Winged Angel and J-E-N-O-V-A. Several older tunes like the Main Theme, Tifa’s Theme and the immortal Aerith’s theme have been brought back in a more respectful manner, which they deserve, with their only real changes being in pace and instrumentation. Several new tracks have also been created, and while pretty much all of it is awesome enough to listen to both in and out of context, a few stand-outs include For the Reunion, Divinity II, Those Who Fight Further, and Black Water.
As for the English dub… Ho boy, I may have to dilly dally on this one. See what I did there? Sorry. Well, I guess I should start on a positive note, Reno’s interpretation is outstanding. They hired Quentin Flynn for the role, which was probably a spot of type casting thanks to his previous ginger character, Axl from Kingdom Hearts. He plays the star of the Turks as a cocky goofball, and a well-meaning screw-up with ironic charm to spare. I’m not sure if this counts as a spoiler, because everybody knows going in that this character was going to show up sooner or later, but Sephiroth is also really well done, as George Newbern plays him from the perspective of the only character he ever interacts with, Cloud. This calls for him to be calm and condescending, with a flow of diabolic affection that’s just barely contained by his assured demeanor, and George nails it, while Lance Bass sits in a corner somewhere feeling lonely and unloved. I wish I could say anything as positive about Crispin Freeman, but the undisputed God of deep voices goes wasted in the role of Rude, whose knack for saying very little has carried over from the game.
There are a couple of other performances that are decent, such as Steve Blum as Vincent and Steve Staley as Kadaj, and the child actors are surprisingly okay, but everyone else is crap. I really wanna be nice to Steve Burton and Rachel Leigh Cook and say that they could have been good if their roles as the main characters Cloud and Tifa hadn’t been written so terribly, and it should have taken far, far better actors to play them as more than just a whiny emo and a nagging fishwife, but even taking those circumstances into account, it just doesn’t sound like either of them brought their A-Game. Cook just sounds confused by the incoherent lines of love interest dialogue she was given, which is kind of fair considering how badly translated a lot of her material was, and Burton just sounds like he found one particular pitch to speak from and started holding onto it as a safe place that he never strayed too far from. Also, I’m probably the only person who actually liked Mandy Moore’s performance as Aerith in Kingdom Hearts 1, and the woman they replaced her with… Mena Suvari… Is just as terrible here as she was in Kingdom Hearts 2. It’s not like she had a difficult role, either.
I’m not sure whether to blame writing or acting for the rest of the problems, like Beau Billingslea quoting Mr. T in the role of Barret, Greg Ellis playing Cait Sith with a Scottish accent, or Wally Wingert playing Rufus Shinra like he just got a fresh enema, but holy crap, Christy Carlson Romano is horrible as Yuffie. What happened there? She was outstanding as Kim Possible, and was even impressive playing this same character in the Kingdom Hearts games. I’m going to have to call out the writing and translation team once again, because the way this dub is written is just bafflingly terrible. It sounds like human speech for the most part, but the awkward pauses the characters make when delivering their lines to try and match the lip flaps look nowhere near natural. Several lines were changed from the original DVD release in the complete edition, but being the geniuses that they are, they didn’t change the three… Count them, three… Utterances of the phrase “Dilly-Dally, Shilly-Shally,” which is a phrase so widely maligned that people won’t even make a meme out of it, even though pretty much anyone who hears it instantly remembers exactly where it came from. I’d recommend the sub over the dub, but if I’m being completely honest, only the original release had the original Japanese dialogue included in a subtitle track, and the tracks in the complete edition are just word for word transcriptions of the dub. Well, at least the Japanese version isn’t as bad with the lip-synching.
There are spoilers beyond this point, for both the game and the movie.
Now, before I start talking about whether or not this film works, I’m going to have to discuss what it was about the original game that worked so well, because in the end, the game is what this movie was trying to be… It was trying to capture lightning in a bottle all over again with a retread of one of the most successful game in history. A lot of people call Final Fantasy 7 needlessly complicated, incoherent and full of emo pandering, but you know what? I call bullshit on all charges. Sure, if you’re looking at the big picture all at once, Final Fantasy 7 can appear to be uninviting and poorly thought out, but when you’re actually playing it, experiencing it beat for beat with patience and a lot of time to spare, this game had a surprisingly simple story that never piled on too much information at once and never really needed to give you time to catch up with it. Sure, there were a few things that didn’t make sense until really far in, and understanding the history of Jenova and the Cetra takes way too much outside studying and Al Bhed usage, but the information you WERE given was smartly executed.
The story and plot were also very generously paced, particularly in regard to the world-building, the nature of the planet Gaia, and Cloud’s character arc. Yeah, I know he has a reputation for being emo, but that was actually a very small part of his journey. He started out the game as kind of a cocky asshole, but over time… Especially after meeting Aerith… He grew and opened up, connecting with his new friends and finding a strength he didn’t know he had. He eventually spiraled into depression when he realized that the very memories that gave him confidence were all lies, but he came out of it, replacing the false strength that pushed people away with a new strength that drew them closer, turning him into a true leader and, ironically, a true Soldier. You didn’t need to know very much about Sephiroth’s origins, Jenova’s origins or the Cetra to know exactly where you were supposed to be or what your next objective was, which was all you, Cloud, needed to know at any given time.
I haven’t experienced all of the different sequels, prequels and spin-offs of this game, but one thing the ones I have been through all have in common is that they break away from Cloud’s story, expanding on details that never needed to be expanded upon, like Zack’s backstory and the history of Jenova, elements that had originally stayed peacefully in the background, but now with more attention on them, they expose more and more inconsistencies and incoherent details that probably should have stayed buried under the story of the silent protagonist. This game never needed an expanded lore, and now that it has one, it’s just become over-complicated. Advent Children focuses on the story of Cloud, which is generally the right way to go, but their version of what made the game work so well seems to be “Emo hero fighting white-haired bishie villain over top of an environmental message.” They delivered on that premise, which is unfortunate, because the game ended in such a way that none of that really sounds viable for a sequel. And I’m sorry, but it really isn’t.
So how did they start the movie with an emo Cloud, after all the development that he went through in the game? They decided to focus on an aspect of Cloud’s character that the game never did; They made him feel guilty about letting Aerith die. Yes, when we meet Cloud, he’s retreated from most human contact, taken a job as a delivery boy, and refuses to help anyone because he failed to do so… Once. There are several reasons this doesn’t work, the first one being that newcomers to the franchise have no idea who Aerith even is, let alone what she means to Cloud and how she died. Even veterans will likely not care, as Aerith’s death is one of the most relentlessly over-exposed moments in Final Fantasy history, and oh yeah, there’s one other thing… Cloud never blamed himself for her death. In the game, he blamed Sephiroth, and he understood what her sacrifice was. Any regret he had over it was defined by the reveal that he wasn’t a real soldier, and that he’s not as capable as he thought he was. So the first selling point of this movie falls flat, because a brooding self-hating Cloud is a false Cloud who can only exist by retconning all of his upwards development.
But what about Sephiroth? You can’t make a Final Fantasy 7 movie without the most iconic villain in video game history, can you? But bringing him back abruptly would just feel like a cheap ass-pull. Advent children decides to have it’s cake and eat it too by saving Sephiroth’s revival for the climax of the movie, giving it the necessary build-up, but satiating the fans by giving Cloud three NEW androgynous white-haired villains to fight… Sephiroth’s clones, Huey, Dewey and Louis. Yes, I know that’s not their real names, but I refuse to spend this entire review typing out the name “Yazoo.” There’s some depth to these characters, as they respectively represent Sephiroth’s ambition, strength and charm, and they’re pretty cool in a fight, but everything else about them is confusing and convoluted. Where did they come from? Did Hojo create them? Were they ordinary babies splashed with Mako, like the ooze and the Ninja Turtles? How do they know about Cloud? How do they even know about Sephiroth? And then you have their plan… Give me a minute.
So, their plan is to find Jenova’s severed head, but the Turks get to it first. How did either side find it? Nobody knows. They can apparently track her to the middle of nowhere, but can’t tell when she’s three feet in front of them. They follow the Shinra to Midgar, and decide the head must be hidden under a huge monument to the people lost two years ago, even though the timelines aren’t even remotely close. They kidnap children, take them to a mystic land of white trees, and brainwash them to be servants… Why? So they can stand in a very loose circle around the monument while Dewey and Louis search in broad daylight. Hell, the kids attract more attention to them than waiting until night and searching in silence would have, and this wide child-gate doesn’t even keep out Rude and Reno. Would using Cloud’s stolen materia to summon Bahamut to search the monument at night have been smarter? Yes, yes it would.
They tried to implement depth by exploring the theme of forgiveness, but since Cloud’s quest to have a dead girl and himself both extend him the olive branch feels untrue and hollow, let’s explore the more important forgiveness-seekers, The Turks. After all, it’s their drive to be forgiven by the world that sets the plot in motion, right? Hell no. First of all, what they’re looking for is vindication, proof that they didn’t cause the geostigma outbreak. What they should be asking forgiveness for is murdering millions of people by collapsing Sector seven, but that horrible, depraved act isn’t actually mentioned in this film outside of a Blu-Ray only look at Denzel’s backstory in a special feature. But speaking of Denzel, and leaving the ‘theme of forgiveness’ crap behind, this is one of the few things about the movie that kind of works… The Geostigma.
In the Complete Edition, you finally get the full lowdown on what this outbreak really is, since it was all cut from the original DVD for time and pacing. I think. After the planet saved humanity from Meteor, the Lifestream somehow became mixed with Jenova cells, thus resulting in the spread of her genetic material to millions of people. It’s a disease that’s killing millions, and it acts very nicely as a ticking time bomb for the movie, as well as an excuse to show Cloud hallucinating about Aerith. Sure, there are a FEW hiccups in the plotline, like the discovery that Cloud has been researching for a cure, despite the fact that he really doesn’t seem like the scientific type, and the eventual conclusion to this plot line is so happy and inspirational, you’ll get so many feels that you won’t even realize the disturbing implication that Aerith’s spirit was basically letting millions of people die while she waited for Cloud to get his groove back to disperse the cure. Yeah. It’s not set in stone that that’s what happens, but come on, the cure was water hiding under the flower garden in her church, just waiting to get blown up in battle. And Aerith is acknowledged as being attached to the water, probably because she died of drowning after Cloud lowered her subconscious, paralyzed body into a lake(thanks, Game Theory!).
So Advent Children fails at recapturing the magic of the game, it fails at doing it’s main cast justice, it fails at thematic writing, and it fails to put together a flowing narrative. Does it do anything right on the surface? Does it work as a popcorn-munching action movie, or even as pure fanservice? Well, yes, it actually does those things. As I mentioned in the animation portion, the fight scenes throughout this film are outstanding, highly imaginative and beautifully directed clashes that are all memorable in their own way, and have stood the test of time as major inspirations on CG animation. The battle of Bahamut Sin was likely a huge influence on the Nevermore fight in the first season of RWBY, which was also the point that convinced a lot of people to not drop the series. And speaking of the Bahamut fight, this movie features appearances from all your favorite Final Fantasy 7 characters, all crowbarred into the movie with about as much purpose and grace as the cast of Street Fighter 2: The Animated movie, so yeah, not a very high bar there. Still, if you’re looking to see your favorite game’s characters in a CG movie that gives them all at least a few seconds to shine(before pissing you off with some stupid Shera flyby scene) then yeah, at least it has that to offer.
Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children is available on DVD at most retailers that sell used media, as well as new and very cheap on both Amazon and Ebay. The Complete Edition is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures home Entertainment for a surprisingly low price. The soundtrack CD can be purchased through Amazon, along with several other renditions on the home video release. The original game is difficult to find online for an affordable price unless you’re willing to take a chance on a lesser quality used copy on Ebay, so if you don’t mind an alternative recommendation, I would highly suggest Final Fantasy 9, which I consider to be the actual best game in the franchise thus far, and it’s brand new on Amazon for only fifteen dollars. If you’re dead set on a brand new copy of VII, happy hunting.
When I bought the complete edition of this movie, I did so with the expectation that it would present me with a more complete story and a more easy to understand plot. As it turns out, the anime-style Denzel backstory in the special features was far more revealing to me than the extra footage was. I don’t think I saw a single new scene that wasn’t better off left on the cutting room floor. They wrecked the pacing, turning a confusing fast movie into a slightly less confusing boring movie, and if I’m starting to sound like I prefer the original to the Complete Edition, well, I do. Whatever complaints I may have had about that headache-machine, this version is decidedly worse, as it’s two hour run-time threatened to put me to sleep. I won’t say it’s not worth watching… Hell, I won’t say it’s not worth owning, as it’s visual and sound qualities are far too outstanding and innovative to not include it in your collection, but the only reason I’d recommend this version over the original is because of the kind of justice that the Blu-Ray format does to it. All the same, it’s still a pretentious piece of forced fanservice, and those of you who have the ability to turn your brains off probably should. I give Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children a 5/10, and the Complete Edition a 4/10.