Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is games publisher Square Enix’s third attempt, after 2001’s The Spirits Within and 2005’s Advent Children, to cast the proverbial magic of cinema over their flagship series. The film, along with animated miniseries Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, serves as an extravagant foreword to the upcoming game from which it takes its subtitle. This extravagance, however, is the film’s underlying folly; despite its name megaphoning the fact it is a single ballad in a larger opera, the writers needlessly blow out the script’s voice chronicling the earth-like world of Eos, gift scenes to characters which do not demand them, and aggro screen time from the ones which patently do.
The film’s ostensible focus, the “Kingsglaive”, are an elite but bantam group of (literally) cloak and dagger soldiers whom the Kingdom of Lucis’s King Regis has bestowed with the teleportative magic of the “Ring of the Lucii.” This power allows the film’s protagonist Nyx Ulric, played by Aaron Paul—and fellow glaives Libertus Ostium, Crowe Altius, Luche Lazarus, and others—to become a force as clandestine and effective in the air as they are on foot. The glaives’ unique and largely unrestricted mode of traversal—throwing knives, resembling Sri Lankan valari, which act as a targeting system and anchor-point for teleportation—is the contextual glue which holds the film’s paramount action sequences, such as those waged inside collapsing airships or ravines, together.
Yet even when Ulric and his glaives lose their privelage to this magical multi-tool, as does the film, the writers’ solution is not to take the interesting if twilit path of exploring the characters’ predicament from a grounded perspective—the “reality” in the “fantasy based on reality” gambit central to the XV concept—but to simply yank the remainder of Eos’s magicians from backstage and force them to cut straight to their final acts. One wonders, watching all of this chaos unfold, what eclipsing etherealities could possibly be left for the mainsail of this flagship when it is finally raised. What Kingsglaive makes apparent, however, is how uninspired some of XV’s inspirations are (the Ring of the Lucii is, no joke, a ring of power that transports its wearer to a dark realm inhabited by spectral kings), and one can only hope, though surely in vain, that they are not emphasized outside of these two hours. The same for a kitchen-sink climax which is essentially a superhero and kaiju film holding hands.
Kingsglaive’s encyclopedic approach to the fantasy film genre, and Final Fantasy XV, makes least sense when considering the existence of webisodes and a fifty hour game to help ply its mythos. Taken as a film alone, though, with all franchisal background noise silenced, Square Enix’s break from cinematics to cinema proper in 2016 is the third in an unspoken trilogy of films which are themselves actors: they roleplay other, better films because they lack the ingenuity and resolve to be art at its purest form—expression. Ulric and Ostium steel one another as “hero” in inspiriting tones because the writers have, in the absence of anything to say save for “buy Final Fantasy XV,” typecast their own characters.
It was in this same ersatz frame of mind, it appears, that the studio was inspired to poach Game of Thrones stars Sean Bean and Lena Headey as King Regis and Princess Lunafreya. (While Aaron Paul as Ulric is a similarly transparent casting, the result is nowhere near as distracting.) Some voices, in some roles, cannot be disassociated from some works, especially culturally lionized ones; the people responsible for casting Kingsglaive knew this. What they didn’t seem to know, or care about, is how this sabotages character impact and memorability. As such, the viewer strains with every word Luna speaks not only to suspend their disbelief but avoid seeing Cersei Lannister speaking it. All the more with King Regis, who shares Ned Stark’s unmistakable voice and his beard, cane, limp and throne.
Somewhere along the promising route of internecine nationalistic belief dividing the glaives—from which the film later goes off-road in pursuit of a twist so generic it transcends both genre and class—Ulric’s captain, Titus Drautos, tells him that whatever strength he has is “on loan from the king,” which is true, in the plural, of the film also. But why does Kingsglaive take out these loans from so many prosperous, foreign (and in some cases antique) lands, when its quest is—its subtitle declares—to set the stage for an opulent new lore? Because it believes, evidently, that richness can come purely through inheritance—through, paradoxically, its own display of excess. It believes that the “magic of cinema”, theatre magic in its modern form, is the magic merely of being there; almost as if what is projected doesn’t factor so long as it plays The Part. “Not all miracles are made by magic,” is Kingsglaive’s best try at enchantment, and a non sequitur. It’s as far as can be from being either.