May 13th, 2006


Advent Children? That's Not Dirty, Is It?

I saw Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the movie sequel to the game Final Fantasy VII. It's not like Leonard Part 6, which wasn't a sequel to anything except maybe itself (because Leonard Part 6? Is really weird). This continues a new behavior of Square of (finally) continuing the story of games, instead of each one standing on its own. Because for the most part, the stories of their games don't really stand up on their own.

The problem is that the stories of the sequels don't really stand up, either.

Advent Children is very Japanese, you see. I don't say this to be racist, but in an attempt to try to describe a phenomenon I've found in various Japanese anime and live-action movies and programs I've seen. I'm by no means an expert, having only seen something on the order of a dozen such things in my life, but I've noticed a thread common to each of them.

They're not stories. Not in the traditional western sense of the word. They're a series of scenes that are generally held together more by theme than plot, more by common characters or events than anything else. Dreamlike would be the best way of describing them, but only because each of them have their own internal logic, and once you start questioning that logic, everything unravels. If I ever have problems with suspension of disbelief when watching a movie or show from Japan, those problems are often central to the whole point of the piece.

However, the visuals are often extremely pretty.

Advent Children is very pretty. Its story is crap.

And this is from someone who enjoyed the story of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. And someone who could follow the plot of the Mission Impossible movie. The first one. I don't think even the guys who made the second one thought they needed a plot. (So maybe it's not so much Japanese story-telling that's the problem as some sort of Asian/American cultural gap?) Anyway, I think part of the problem is that I never got into the plot of Final Fantasy VII. There's a certain spoiler event that occurs in FFVII that completely ruined the story for me. As soon as this crucial bit of information was revealed, I stopped caring. I felt like I'd been lied to, like none of what I'd done mattered. I stopped caring, and I stopped playing. To this day, I've never finished FFVII. I know the rest of the story, I know this and that, and the other thing, too. I just stopped caring.

When a mystery story or action movie reveals a twist to the plot, it's acceptable as long as the twist is believable, and there are motivations underlying it, and it's been foreshadowed. That was my main problem with this revelation: there was no hint earlier in the game that what you knew was not what was. This same problem is often what gets comic book fans upset when a retcon occurs in comics: it's rarely supported or foreshadowed, it's usually just set in place for the short-term gain of some surprise or shock plot twist, all so that the plot will work, because otherwise . . . it won't.

If there had been just one bit of foreshadowing setting up the twist, even if it would have been incomprehensible until after the revelation (almost especially in that case!), I maybe could have gotten behind it. I don't know for sure, we can never know with might have beens. But I think it would have helped.

Well, FFVII:AC doesn't ever do any kind of retcon thing. It's just . . . FFVII was an epic game, blowing around the planet, dozens of cities and towns and places to explore, and even the possibility of reaching outer space! It doesn't materialize, but you feel like it's an epic, even cosmic story. But FFVII:AC doesn't. There's three or four places in the movie, which makes the threat seem much less severe. I mean, these are people who saved the world, here. Give them a threat that seems of similar gravitas, even if it isn't, really.

And the laws of physics that are obliterated for the sake of a cool visual. That almost always makes for a dumb visual instead, sorry.

And the immortality of everyone, especially irritating as hell bad guys. I don't remember how many times I thought "Just kill one of them, already!" watching this. When it finally seemed some of them were dead, though, spoiler spoiler, and why don't they just die? It actually did work, kind of like the first Die Hard, but after not working over and over for so long, I was just aggravating. I mean, you've got at least three bad guys, movie.

Off one of them.

However, credit where credit is due, and as I said, the visuals were often very good. Sometimes, the fight scenes were breathtaking enough that the laws of physics that weren't used were even going, "Dude! That's so friggin awesome!" And the final fight between Cloud and a George Newbern-voiced major spoiler was exquisitely satisfying. Especially spoiler's last line.

(Why am I pointing out George Newbern? Because he did the voice of Superman in the Bruce Timm produced Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Listening to his Superman recently, I was shocked at how well he did playing the character he played. Now, he'll always be that character's voice. If I ever play FFVII again . . .)

(Oh, and some of the other voice actors are a bit of a surprise, too, particularly the females. Rachel Leigh Cook. Mena Suvari. Rainbow effin' Brite).

I wouldn't buy FFVII:AC as it stands now. I would pay money for all the beautifully rendered flashbacks to the game and the fight scenes with only the background music and incidental sound effects. No dialogue. No story.

I wouldn't pay cover price of FFVII:AC, but I would spend some money. Maybe . . . half-price?

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque