Gamers who are fans of the long-running “Final Fantasy” franchise will certainly be drawn to “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV,” an elaborate combination of CGI and motion-capture technology made primarily for the Japanese market that’s been dubbed into English for an American audience and is receiving a limited theatrical release. Others will more likely be baffled by the movie, which is sort of like being thrown into “Game of Thrones” in the middle of season five and being expected to understand what’s going on, though there is an effort at the start to offer a backstory to provide some context.
The premise is that on some alternate earth-like planet, a brutally imperialist empire called Niflheim—a name with vaguely Teutonic overtones that suggests the mythology of Wagnerian opera—is threatening the peaceful realm of Lucis Caelum (roughly translated from the Latin, frankly employed ungrammatically throughout, to mean “Realm of Light”). But Lucis, and particularly its capital of Insomnia, are protected by magical defenses deriving from a mystical crystal and a ring worn by its ruler, as well as by a band of royal warriors called the kingsglaive. Unhappily, the tide of battle is turning in the empire’s favor, and so the king feels compelled to accept an offer of peace that involves turning over much of his territory outside Insomnia but retaining control of the capital. He will also have to agree to the marriage of his son to Lunafreya Nox, the princess of Tenebrae, a land that is shown in a prologue to have fallen treacherously to the empire some years earlier.
Naturally the emperor’s offer of peace is a ruse that will get him and his minions inside Insomnia to steal the kingdom’s magic crystal. A heroic defense is mounted by Nyx Ulric, one of the kingsglaive, who is named the princess’ bodyguard. But his efforts are undermined by dissension within the guards’ ranks, and by an internal resistance movement in Insomnia. Many battles ensue, some involving gigantic demons in imperial service, as well as a bewildering variety of betrayals, twists and sudden reversals. There is also a large array of supporting characters, whose connection to the primary plot is often obscure. Suffice it to say that many of the characters—including major ones—die along the way, though a few survive to allow for a further installment if one appears an enticing financial prospect.
From a technical perspective “Kingsglaive” indicates how far the visuals of video games have progressed since their humble beginnings. The backgrounds and creatures on display here are impressive, and though the character animation is less so—the motion-capture method works well enough in terms of the human figures overall, but the mouth motions still betray the awkwardness that stretches back to “Polar Express” days—it’s certainly up to present-day game standards.
But if the look of the movie should please fans, the plot is an absolute muddle—an unholy brew of flotsam and jetsam that ranges from Wagnerian motifs and garbled Latin names (sometimes conjoined, as in Lunefreya) to bits of “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings.” The result veers from the ridiculous to the ludicrous without venturing much beyond those parameters. The dialogue, meanwhile, is risible when not merely banal, and one has to credit the English voiceover talent—headed by Aaron Paul as Nyx Ulric, Lena Headey as Lunefreya Nox and Sean Bean as the king of Lucis—simply with getting through it without breaking into howls of laughter. (Of course, the outtakes of their recording sessions might reveal otherwise.) There’s a good deal of athleticism among the humanoid characters, so the motion-capture actors must also be mentioned for their considerable efforts.
“Kingsglaive” is really only for the initiated. As for others, only if they suffer from the malady after which Lucis’ capital is named are they likely to get through it without dozing off.