Takeshi Nozue’s Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV launches with an exposition-filled historical summary, then a prelude in which the antagonistic Niflheim Empire uses their mechanical forces to overwhelm the forested kingdom of Tenebrae, taking hostage the orphaned young queen Lunafreya (Lena Headey) and her brother, Ravus (Trevor Devall). Only after cutting 12 years ahead does the story find a focal point in Nyx Ulric (Aaron Paul), a magic-wielding soldier—or Kingsglaive—in the employ of King Regis (Sean Bean), the only ruler as yet unconquered by Niflheim. From there, the plot spares no cliché: Nyx disobeys a direct order, but only so that he might save a comrade, Libertus (Liam Mulvey). Meanwhile, their ally, Crowe (Alexa Kahn), is given just enough lines so that when she’s quietly butchered off camera, the heroes have a more immediate, personal stake in the war. If it weren’t already obvious that the conditional peace treaty that makes up the centerpiece of the film is a trap, the relentless peacocking of Niflheim’s Ardyn Izunia (Darin De Paul) is basically the world’s most obvious mustache twirl.
As a film, then, Kingsglaive never quite works. It is, however, a marvelously enticing advertisement for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV video game. While the film’s plot is by the books, the action is a frenetic orgy that hints at what players will be able to do when they finally get their hands on the game. The scenery-chewing dialogue is mitigated by the fact that the actual CGI landscapes are staggeringly beautiful, and the traffic-filled streets of Insomnia are so realistic that it’s no wonder a Final Fantasy character once served as a fashion model for Louis Vuitton. Lines of dialogue that compare the taste of food to a “chocobo turd” don’t do much to develop characters or the world; they’re just delightful Easter eggs for longtime Final Fantasy fans. The film can’t explain what the duty is that causes Luna to constantly end up as a distressed damsel, just as it can’t reveal why Emperor Iedolas (David Gant) is so dead-set on stealing King Regis’s magical crystal: These are twists for the upcoming game, but they leave Kingsglaive largely dead in the water.
Thankfully, the second half of Kingsglaive is essentially one giant, gloriously depicted, albeit frequently confusing, fight sequence. At one moment, Nyx is using his short-range teleport to stealthily dispatch guards on the claustrophobic deck of an airship, and the next he’s fleeing both that crashing airship and a monstrous octopus (fans may recognize Final Fantasy VI’s Ultros). At this point, viewers can turn their brains off. This actually turns out to be for the best, as the lack of background given to each faction—particularly the anti-Regis freedom fighters—makes the political intrigue a bit like watching a chess game for which all the rules have been changed.
By contrast, the literally dizzying action sequences, in which the camera blinks from encounter to encounter as if it’s teleporting beside Nyx, don’t need any context. They’re intentionally untethered from reality, relishing in impossible angles and choreography. A physics-defying car chase in which Nyx somehow drives his car up the narrow gap between two skyscrapers is the very definition of mindless fun, and Kingsglaive only intensifies from there, as if it’s intent on one-upping every inch of 2005’s Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The film’s final battle between Nyx and the armored General Glauca (Adrian Bouchet) has them at one point literally fighting atop two kaiju-like demons. Kingsglaive is indisputably a technical marvel, but such soulless, over-the-top combat only emphasizes how ridiculous a film it really is.