(To those of you who stumble across this, I realized belatedly that my response to this video wasn’t a YouTube comment. Now I’m too lazy to change it. 😛 Normally, I don’t do comments or responses, but I really appreciated this video’s insight.)
Hi, Il Neige! Thanks for the thoughtful review of Advent Children! People don’t examine this movie’s merits and flaws enough. I’m a CGI movie enthusiast, and I really appreciated your insight. There are a few things I want to point out though. I apologize for the novel, but I like talking about this stuff.
It seems some of your complaints come from the idea that Advent Children is supposed to be something that it’s not. You say that Advent Children doesn’t expand the lore of Final Fantasy VII. Does it have to? I feel like Advent Children serves multiple purposes. It has fan service, but it also just tells a weird story about a guy struggling to accept his past and find his place in the present. While it services fans of the games and maybe sells Dirge of Cerberus, it tells a complete, character-driven story that I think anyone can watch, analyze, and pull meaning from. You spend a lot of time in this video simply talking about Advent Children’s themes and characters but go on to say that you wish it were something else when I think what you described is a really interesting story that’s worth telling. Who cares that it doesn’t expand on the universe that it takes place in? Final Fantasy VII is simply the medium that this story is told through.
You say the problem that plagues all video game movies is that they’re not interactive. Does this make all action movies boring because you can’t tell the characters to attack one another? The fact that they’re not interactive is a weakness of the movie medium, not of Advent Children or of video game movies in particular.
You also say that Advent Children looks realistic but simultaneously defies physics akin to live-action anime. Does anyone in this movie actually look like a real person though? I would argue, no. Nobody looks real. They’re a bit too perfect and alien to be real, and I don’t think the goal was photorealism. The look and style of the film doesn’t stray that far from the look and feel of Final Fantasy cut scenes. It just looks a little nicer.
I would also say that Advent Children isn’t anime though. Do you think of video game cut scenes as cartoons? Where is the line between acceptably realistic and cartoon CGI, and why are there categories? CGI is a different art form that, while it can take inspiration from other mediums such as video games, live-action movies, and cartoons, has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, making something explode in CG is extremely easy while making characters hold hands is extremely difficult. Making something explode with 2D animation is very difficult, but making characters hold hands is trivial. We can forgive the poofy explosions in 2D animation and guns that jump from a table to a character’s hands in video games because they get the idea across. Putting blood and dirt on a character may not be as simple with CGI as it is to put makeup on an actor or paint on a cell, but Advent Children still shows the impact of violence in other ways.
A lot of your complaints come from the idea that most of Advent Children’s fight scenes are just visual spectacles, but I don’t think this is the case. They build the physical limitations of the world and its characters. The first fight scene introduces motorcycle chase scenes and gravity defying action, which we see for the rest of the film. Cloud getting his goggles shot off shows that the characters can withstand a lot of damage, and they do for the rest of the movie, but it also implies that they can be hurt. The fight between Loz and Tifa shows that the characters can also jump really high and have super human strength. This fight scene and the next one between Cloud and Kadaj’s gang shows that the bad guys pose a threat, even to the people who saved the world two years ago and have super human abilities. The fight with Bahamut shows that together, Cloud and his friends can defeat the bad guys. The motorcycle chase scene between Cloud, Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo uses every single element that we’ve learned about from all previous fight scenes: high jumping, motorcycle chases, sword fighting, super strength, etc. The final battle with Sephiroth places itself on an even higher level by giving Sephiroth the ability to outright fly. He doesn’t need to high jump.
The fight scenes also one up each other by heightening the stakes. In the first fight scene, Cloud is only fighting to save himself. In the next scene, Tifa is fighting to save herself and Marlene. In the scene after that, Cloud fights to save a bunch of children. In the scene after that, Cloud and his friends fight to protect the citizens of the city. After that, Cloud fights Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo to prevent the resurrection of Sephiroth, which could lead to the destruction of the world. Finally, Cloud fights Sephiroth, a god-like being, to save the world.
You mention that the camera work defies basic filmmaking techniques. I’d argue that the movie actually follows the 180 degree rule really well, and for the most part, the shots are wide to show the action and where the characters are located in relation to one another and in the scene. Its camera shots are interesting and would be very difficult to recreate in a live-action movie or anime, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. This isn’t a terrible action movie that uses shaking camera angles, two-second-long shots, and closeups to hide its crappy choreography. Advent Children’s use of disorienting camera angles, mostly during Cloud’s fight with Sephiroth, seem to be used to show Cloud’s emotional state: frantic, confused, and scared.
There’s also reason to emotionally invest in every fight scene, even before Vincent reveals the details about Sephiroth and geostigma. While we don’t understand why Cloud is attacked in the first fight scene, neither does Cloud. He’s just trying to survive and figure out what the hell is going on. He’s immediately a character we can sympathize with and root for because we don’t know what’s going on either. We can care about Tifa and Loz’s fight because Tifa is a friend of Cloud’s, she doesn’t know what’s going on, and she needs to protect an innocent child from this creepy guy in black leather. In Cloud’s fight with Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo, he’s weakened and caught off balance from the moment he enters the fight. He came to save the kids from creepy guys in black leather, but his own memories and fears get in his way. We don’t need to know about geostigma’s origins or Shinra or Kadaj’s motivations in order to sympathize with these needs to survive and save children from creepy dudes. The movie simply hasn’t explained the more abstract concepts yet.
You argue that there aren’t any stakes because there aren’t implications that the characters can be hurt. For example, how can we believe that Cloud will die of a gunshot after surviving rocks falling on top of him? Keep in mind that Cloud saved the world two years ago only to be struck down by an incurable disease. Despite all the strength these characters have, they’re still human. Cloud doesn’t actually receive an injury from rocks falling on top of him, but it does drain his energy and fill him with fear. This moment, where he must fight a god-like being while trying not to be crushed by large falling rocks, actually begins Cloud’s downfall in the fight. When he escapes the falling rock pile, he collapses and doesn’t regain strength until the memories of his friends re-empower him. Shots of his face during and before the rocks fall shows his desperation and fear.
Most of the implications that characters can be severely hurt or die comes from their emotional and physical reactions. For me personally, I find this much more powerful than movies that kill the majority of the supporting cast and thousands of civilians to try to convince me that its emotionally sterile and apparently invincible protagonist is somehow in physical danger. Cloud’s never stabbed, shot (without protection from sturdy glasses), or exploded until the end of the movie, but he does tire quite easily and is controlled by his emotions and illness. This means that for most of the movie, we’re left in suspense as to what his physical limits are until it reveals that he’s vulnerable to stabbing, bullets, and explosions. The only reason he survives these things is because his friends, particularly Aerith, help him.
Sure, maybe more people could die of geostigma to show that it’s more of a threat. And maybe having Loz, Yazoo, Reno, and Rude survive an explosion for the sake of visual flair was a bad idea. But how would killing Cloud or anyone else in the movie serve its themes? Cloud is already lamenting the deaths of two people. Why should he need to lament anyone else’s? At the end of the movie, Cloud chooses his friends and life over his memories of Aerith and Zack and acceptance of death. Sephiroth’s survival symbolizes that the Lifestream’s cycle of life and death, peace and peril will continue as it always has.
Finally, you say that the final fight scenes contradict the movie’s themes and ideas. Cloud’s friends disappear after the fight with Bahamut despite their presence being an important part of Cloud’s strength. The reason for this is probably because choreography is hard. As is, it’s stunning that so many characters fight Bahamut at once while still looking awesome and not degenerating into a confusing punching, stabbing, and sword swinging fest. One of the reasons that it works is probably because Bahamut is so large. The movie’s solution to needing to keep Cloud’s friends around without pouring time and effort into creating the circumstances and choreography for them to continue to fight is as elegant as it could be. Ultimately, the movie is about Cloud, and the majority of the film’s effort focuses on that. His friends are still with him on the sidelines during his fight with Kadaj, and when they completely disappear during his fight with Sephiroth, it heightens the danger because Cloud is apparently by himself again.
Considering how thematic this movie is, what we see on screen sometimes seems more representative of its ideas rather than of what is actually occurring. While it doesn’t make sense that Cloud’s friends would leave him to fight Sephiroth on his own, the final fight scene represents the idea that Cloud overcomes his doubts and saves the world with the help of his friends (i.e. his memories of them). As another example, what happens in the final scene of the movie is objectively ridiculous, but it perfectly conveys the idea that Cloud and the world have healed.
Anyway, if you made it this far, thank you for reading! Again, I really appreciated your treatment of this film and thought I would just bring another perspective. I think the fact that we can even argue about themes, characters, and filmmaking techniques with an action movie, video game-based movie, and fan service film is impressive. I’m looking forward to your Advent Children Complete review!