Advent Children is best enjoyed for its gorgeous animation and huge battle scenes instead of its bleak, empty narrative.
Two years after the events of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockhart are taking care of orphaned children in the city of Edge, when a mysterious group of men confront Cloud, believing him to hold the power of their mother. Cloud, suffering from a condition called Geostigma, enters a massive battle between the mysterious enemies. It is quickly revealed that these men aim to create a "reunion" and restart the battle for the planet alongside a familiar enemy. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children demands that you have at least been a bit associated with the Playstation original. Otherwise, the film will throw terms like "life stream" and "omnislash" around like rag dolls, and you won't get any of it. The mythology is pretty difficult to get around your head from the get-go and even the most avid Final Fantasy VII fan will need to brush up on their history before tackling Advent Children. Newcomers be warned.
Unlike past Final Fantasy VII installments, Advent Children doesn't require your gaming participation. It becomes extremely easy to get lost in the world of Final Fantasy VII, especially considering that the production values are some of the best in the biz. I give my best praise to the later computer-generated works of Pixar, Dreamworks, and even those of James Cameron, but when it comes right down to it, Advent Children sets the bar higher than any other feature film I've ever seen. The gravity-defying battle scenes are beyond stunning, the scope is vast, and every piece of cinematography feels crucial and intense. As if some kind of answer to the repetitive random battle animations of the RPG worlds of the past, Advent Children is a dynamic and genuinely awe-inspiring spectacle of a feature film that shifts into overdrive and never stops moving.
Sadly, though, it's that pacing that makes the storyline so downright negligible. To be frank, nothing really happens in Advent Children. The storyline is set up in a fragile method, and by the time the ending battle wraps up, no sense of resolution really appears. The entire purpose of the movie is buried in some very flashy and remarkably entertaining confrontations, but in the end, the rich and multi-layered Final Fantasy VII storyline is lost in Advent Children. Though many occurrences in the film are unpredictable, the importance of these surprises is never truly explained. Even more so is an odd lack of closure, with an ambiguous ending that never really moves anywhere. To those who dove into Final Fantasy VII for a quality and multi-faceted storyline, stick with the original, because Advent Children shoves narrative aside at every possible opportunity.
But even when the story takes a backseat, you do get to see all of your favorite Final Fantasy VII stars. Leading man Cloud continues his angst-filled epilogue, but manages to grow as a character, something unexpected in a quick feature film like Advent Children. Fan favorites like Tifa, Barrett, Vincent, and the like all make appearances, each with spectacular placement in the major battles throughout. The recurring theme of "reunion" throughout Advent Children is a perfect notation for the film itself. At its essence, Advent Children is a reunion of the cast of one of the greatest role-playing games in history. Nearly every major character introduced in Final Fantasy VII makes an appearance in Advent Children, and it's that comforting feeling of revisiting old friends that makes the film feel special. Advent Children could be called "fan service" in a more negative connotation, but the fact that you get to see these memorable characters back in action is definitely a good one.
The overall translation and casting feels tight and focused. Steve Burton's return role as Cloud (he also performed Cloud's role in the Kingdom Hearts series) couldn't be better. Rachel Leigh Cook's role as Tifa balances an intense fighting spirit and a tender caring for those around her, a highlight in the film. The dialogue and writing itself can feel a tad melodramatic, but for a film less driven by dialogue and more by action and intensity, this is negligible. Anime voice actor veterans like Steve Blum as Vincent definitely feel right in the world of Advent Children. Moving from text boxes to full-on "super animation" is a huge step, but Advent Children keeps the characters' hearts beating throughout the film, always finding a way to get their personalities going and to keep their memorable attitudes constant.
+ Sky high production values show off unquestionably intense battles
+ A fine return for some of gaming's most treasured characters
+ Solid casting and voice acting
- Will leave those uninitiated with the series scratching their heads
If you've been starved for content post-Final Fantasy VII, Advent Children is as sweet a treat as any gravity-defying swordfight feature film can be. You see all of your favorite characters doing what they do best, all with production values that reach the highest of peaks. However, this is almost impenetrable for anyone who hasn't at least played Final Fantasy VII once, and anyone who didn't love the storyline of the game will not find Advent Children to be a mind-changer. In fact, the lack of any type of story structure doesn't help the film's case. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is for the fans first and foremost, but there still are some absolutely amazing battles throughout, all of which show computer-generated animation in a pristine light. It's a fitting tribute to the cinematic quality of the series, but lacks the storyline significance that made its world so lively and deep. While it doesn't have much structure, it's far too easy to get lost in Advent Children to ignore, so turn off your brain and just let the motorcycle swordfights roll on.