This movie is not to be confused with the theatrical release Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Advent Children is a sequel to the role-playing game Final Fantasy VII and does contain spoilers for the game. Due to the nature of the events of the story, this review will discuss critical details for the plots of both the game and the film.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is recommended, and probably accessible, only for fans of the source material, but players who enjoyed Final Fantasy VII and who are willing to make some compromises with regard to storytelling will find a lot to enjoy in this film. Viewers who dislike what they see as “Japanese animation’s way” of developing stories and characters, as a friend of mine puts it, will want to pass on this film. I would instead highly recommend watching The Secret World of Arrietty instead, as it’s infinitely easier to understand. It’s also an utterly fantastic movie in itself and a perfect recommendation for families.
Advent Children has an impressive opening sequence that uses the same sort of quick camera cuts and theme music the game began with, as the lion-like creature known as Red XIII and others of his kind are looking out over an expansive and gorgeous valley (which is actually how the game ended, not how it began).
After succinctly recapping the main events of Final Fantasy VII, the film reintroduces the viewer to Shinra, an electricity-producing corporation with a reputation for causing environmental destruction. This takes the form of harnessing the Lifestream, essentially the spirit energy of the Planet, represented as a living being, and using it as a power source. (It should be noted that Midgar, a very large city where most of Shinra’s reactors are located, is an exceedingly filthy city almost uninhabitable for plant life, let alone all the people who make their homes in the city slums.)
The movie then quickly moves on to explain the various primary characters’ roles. Main hero Cloud Strife was once a member of a Shinra-produced class of warriors known as SOLDIER. An extremely gifted man named Sephiroth was also a member of SOLDIER and was also the power-hungry main antagonist of Final Fantasy VII. Advent Children takes place two years after Sephiroth’s defeat at the end of the game. The story of the film states that Sephiroth wanted to destroy the world–a technical truth and an incomplete explanation. Since the Lifestream heals the Planet in much the same way that our own circulatory systems heal our wounds, Sephiroth’s intention was to cause a cataclysmic event, simply referred to as Meteor, that would force all of the Lifestream to one location in order to repair the damages to the Planet. Sephiroth would in turn exploit these events and merge with the Lifestream to become a god.
Suffice it to say that the story only becomes more complex from there, as Cloud returns to avert a new threat to the Planet, and while the movie does not know how to pace itself in such a way that the viewer has time to digest all of the events that are occurring, the story itself is usually pretty decent (if a bit too similar to the game it’s based on), and the art and music design have received quite a lot of care in most scenes. The music especially functions well, whether the current scene calls for heavy guitar riffs or gentle piano playing, though one scene in particular plays music that doesn’t seem at all appropriate for the events on display.
Attempting to provide many more details about what is going on would only serve to spoil many of the events of the film, as they’re quite often too unusual to even hint at. The character development could use work for heroes and villains alike, though at least the heroes often have the advantage of being returning characters from Final Fantasy VII, such that their personalities and backgrounds had already been explained. Cloud is still burdened with guilt over certain specific events from the game, and as such he stands as probably the most developed character of the film. Other characters appear at convenient times to aid Cloud against the story’s antagonists, but given that the events of the story are so significant that they would surely make world news in-universe (we’re not shown this, but the technology is almost certainly still there), these sudden appearances and reunions are made easier to believe.
When the film isn’t rapidly shifting between characters and subplots, it does have moments of greatness. Two of these in particular are on the part of the story’s villains, the one moment being a disturbing but powerful scene of children being kidnapped and manipulated for the sake of a cause, and the other moment being an even more disturbing but visually amazing scene where the villains begin attacking and wreaking havoc on an innocent yet justifiably angry crowd. The villains’ motivations for wanting to harm the Planet could use a little more explaining, however.
Most of the rest of the film consists of wonderfully choreographed but intense and over-the-top fight sequences as well as the occasional plot revelation, with a contrived but well-meaning nod to teamwork and perseverance late in the story. The story closes with a somewhat convenient ending as well as what appears to be an unnecessary sequel hook. The very last scene in the film, however, is a beautifully touching demonstration of forgiveness that validates Cloud’s character development as well as the film as a whole, for all its flaws.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is not a film to be recommended to a wide audience, particularly not to anyone not strongly familiar with the preceding video game, but fans of that work might consider giving this a watch, if only to see the return of their favorite characters, with some awesome music and action sequences to match.
(As a closing note, it should be mentioned that the film has a Blu-ray edition that contains a significant amount of additional footage, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. This is not the edition of the film that used to be available for free on Hulu and Crackle, and as such I have been told that it contains quite a bit of additional content, which would likely do wonders for the plot pacing.)
(Additional thanks go to the Final Fantasy wiki and to Wikipedia for their help in clarifying certain background concepts and minor details.