Film Club: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete

The classic came to theaters for a special two-night event!

By Angela Marrujo Fornaca. Posted 03/01/2024 19:29 Comment on this     ShareThis

Film Club is where we take a look at video game movies and TV shows and offer our impressions and insights. Part review, part reflection, Film Club is a great way to find something new to watch based on all of our favorite pastime.

There are great games and then there are legendary games, and Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) has more than earned its place as one of the latter. Hailed for its writing — including its use of the unreliable narrator and explorations of PTSD — along with its graphics, outstanding soundtrack, and plot, it’s widely considered one of the greatest games of all time. And while development originally began on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, that pretty famously didn’t work out for Nintendo in the end.

It would take 22 years for Square (or rather, Square Enix) to bring FFVII to a Nintendo console, with the 2019 release of the game on Nintendo Switch. That was followed by Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion on Switch in 2022.

However, in 2005, Square Enix released a totally console-agnostic FFVII experience that would go on to impact the world and continuity of FFVII in really significant ways: the animated film, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. I turned 15 in 2005 and hadn’t yet played FFVII, but I was aware of it and thought the cast of characters was really cool, Cloud and Vincent in particular. So despite knowing really nothing about the game, I decided to watch it because, in my teenage brain, the cool factor of the characters was all that really mattered and I was pretty sure I could fill in the blanks in the plot as I watched.

One of the biggest criticisms of Advent Children is that its plot is confusing, even for people who’ve played the game. I won’t lie and pretend like I followed the plot easily after my first viewing. Or my second. It definitely took a handful of views. It took a lot of people a handful of views, so in 2009, a director’s cut of the film was released: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. With 26 minutes of additional footage, it definitely clarifies much of the formerly-muddy details of the original film, but I’d never bothered to sit down and watch it. But to promote the release of Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, Square Enix re-released Complete in select theaters for only two nights earlier this month (one night for the sub, one night for the dub). I went to the showing of the dub, eager to see it in on the big screen for the first time and to finally clear up the plot’s confusion.


The setting, in brief:

  • Two years after the events of FFVII, the survivors of the destruction of Midgar have formed a new city called Edge.
  • Cloud and Tifa run a courier service and live with Barret’s adopted daughter, Marlene, and an orphaned boy named Denzel.
  • Cloud, grief-stricken over what he considers a personal failure to save Aerith, ostracizes himself from his family and friends, taking refuge in the remains of Aerith’s church.
  • The citizens of Edge are afflicted by an illness going around that they’re calling Geostigma. There is no known cure.

Rufus Shinra, former president of Shinra Electric Power Company who was presumed dead, reveals he’s very much alive and requests Cloud’s help in defeating a trio of Sephiroth lookalikes named Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz. They’re the physical manifestation of the vestiges of Sephiroth’s spirit, and are searching for the remains of Jenova in order to resurrect Sephiroth. The Turks first encountered the group at the Northern Cave, where they were also searching for Jenova’s remains and were attacked. Rufus suspects that there’s a link between Geostigma and Jenova, which is why he sent The Turks to retrieve the remains.

Cloud, who’s already had a violent run-in with the group (who call him “brother”) after they ambushed him on the road, seems mildly concerned and possibly willing to help Rufus, until Reno makes the mistake of saying they could rebuild Shinra together. Cloud leaves, uninterested in getting involved.

Shortly afterwards, Kadaj tracks down where Rufus, Reno, and Rude are staying, subdues Reno and Rude, and attempts to intimidate Rufus into admitting that he and the Turks have Jenova’s remains. Rufus insists they do not, and Kadaj reveals Tseng and Elena’s blood-covered IDs, suggesting he may have killed them in the attack — another attempt at trying to unnerve Rufus. He then abducts Rufus, but not before revealing that he and his brothers plan on having a “Reunion” to resurrect Sephiroth.

Meanwhile, Loz and Yazoo are rounding up kids infected with Geostigma, taking them to the Forgotten City to conduct the Reunion. They’re telling the kids that they have a cure in order to convince them to leave with them. Tifa and Marlene go to Aerith’s church in search of Cloud and, while they don’t find him there, they find his crate of Materia and old, stained bandages that reveal he has Geostigma. Loz happens upon them and, after defeating Tifa in a fight, takes Marlene and the Materia. Denzel, also infected with Geostigma, gets talked into going with Loz and Yazoo by the other neighborhood kids who are infected and desperate for a cure.

Cloud returns to the church and finds Tifa there, barely conscious. As she tells him what happened, he has a spasm caused by Geostigma that causes him to pass out. They’re found by Reno and Rude and taken back to Tifa and Cloud’s bar; when they wake, Reno and Rude tell them that Loz and Yazoo took the kids, but Cloud attempts to distance himself from the situation, telling Reno and Rude to go rescue them. Tifa, angered by Cloud’s constant evasion and disappearing for long stints at a time, snaps at him, and Reno tells him to get the kids himself.

At the Forgotten City, Kadaj infects its waters and instructs the kids to drink them, who instantly become his puppets. Cloud rides his motorcycle to the Forgotten City and fights the trio, but barely survives thanks to the sudden appearance of Vincent, who takes him to safety. Vincent, who’s been spying on the trio, says that Tseng and Elena were brought to the city half-dead after being brutally tortured by Kadaj and his brothers. He did what he could to save them, but their fate is unknown. Marlene manages to escape and finds Vincent and Cloud, begging Cloud to take her back to Tifa. Again, Cloud attempts to distance himself and asks Vincent to take her; this angers Marlene, who accuses Cloud of never paying attention to her, Tifa, and Denzel. Cloud asks Vincent if sins are ever forgiven, but Vincent says he’s never tried — so Cloud vows to try, leaving for Edge with Marlene.

It’s chaos back in Edge, where Kadaj summons Bahamut SIN to destroy a monument within the city that he believes may be hiding Jenova’s remains, while Rufus looks on, captive. After failing to find anything, Bahamut starts running rampant and the members of AVALANCHE and their friends appear to stop it. Cloud, finally free of the guilt that’s consumed him, takes out Bahamut with the help of his friends. Rufus then makes the grand reveal to Kadaj that he’s had Jenova’s remains in a box all along, then throws it over the side of the building they’re at the top of. He and Kadaj dive after it, and Rufus shoots it, damaging the box. He’s saved just in time by Tseng and Elena. Cloud, Kadaj and his brothers, Reno, and Rude then have a fight in a freeway tunnel; Reno and Rude blow up the tunnel with Loz and Yazoo in it, leaving Cloud to pursue Kadaj.

Kadaj attempts to hide in Aerith’s church, but her spirit summons a deluge of Lifestream-infused water from her flowerbed, which heals Cloud’s Geostigma. Fleeing to the remains of the Shinra Building, Cloud fights and defeats Kadaj, who then absorbs Jenova’s remains and transforms into Sephiroth. After a brutal fight, Cloud triumphs over Sephiroth, who reverts back to Kadaj, who then dies and returns to the Lifestream. Suddenly, Loz and Yazoo, brimming with Materia and barely alive, appear and shoot Cloud through the chest; Cloud, enraged, attacks them, and all three are engulfed by a massive explosion.

Cloud is brought back to life by the spirits of Aerith and Zack. He wakes in the pool of water at Aerith’s church, surrounded by the children who’ve already soaked themselves to cure their Geostigma. Denzel is the last, so Cloud lowers him into the pool. As the crowd cheers, Cloud sees the ghosts of Aerith and Zack in the church doorway, who wave and smile, reminding him things will be alright. Cloud finally recognizes that he’s not alone and doesn’t need to push his family away.

Overall Thoughts

Visually, Advent Children was ahead of its time and still looks great today 19 years later. Complete reanimated a number of different scenes to accommodate for the inclusion of so much more story detail, but the new animations don’t look as good to me as the original. The new animations are a little too crisp and sharp, and also a little too bright compared to the washed out, muted colors and textures of the original film. If you never watch the original and only watch Complete, you’ll likely be unable to recognize new versus old footage. If you’ve seen the original as many times as I have, you’ll notice the difference easily.

Complete is supposed to be a grittier, more violent movie. Scenes where there was formerly no blood now have blood spatter, characters have more battle damage, and the fight with Sephiroth has been edited to include him impaling and lifting Cloud into the air as an homage to that scene in the game. I thought that was pretty cool and made the fights feel more realistic.

Most of the 26 minutes of added content is much welcomed, as it does major work in clearing up fuzzy or straight up confusing moments in the original. Other content was unnecessary, like including Denzel’s backstory (I absolutely do not care about Denzel) or added scenes involving the random kids in the neighborhood who are infected with Geostigma. The scenes where the effects of Geostigma were revealed, including the sudden excretion of black mystery goo from the body, were creepy but useful at actually making Geostigma seem like something more than just “random illness we came up with but don’t do anything to demonstrate.” It was also nice to see Cloud have a moment with Zack, helping encourage him in his dire moment of need.

By the time the team got around to working on Complete, the child voice actors for Denzel and Marlene had gotten too old to rerecord their lines and had to be recast. Again, if you’ve seen the original, the difference is noticeable and certain lines don’t hit the same way as they did in the original.

When the original movie released, one reviewer called the movie “soulless” and “impenetrable,” and complained that anyone who didn’t play FFVII wouldn’t be able to follow the movie. At 15 years old, I was able to follow the movie well enough the first time I watched and better with each subsequent viewing despite never having played the game. Since watching Complete, I was able to confirm that the things I’d deduced or assumed were more or less correct, and the couple of things that still remained murky got cleared up. So I disagree that the movie is “impenetrable” without playing the game, but at the same time I’m not sure why you’d go into a movie marketed as taking place after the events of a game and not assume some backstory will be unclear to people who haven’t played it.

“Soulless” is also incredibly unfair. The scene where Kadaj hears Aerith calling to him as he’s dying, telling him he can let go and doesn’t need to hold on any longer, always hits me kind of hard. It makes me think of how they say that many people see or hear loved ones long gone when they’re dying, beckoning them to “come home.” And Cloud’s moments with Aerith and Zack are tender and heart-wrenching, particularly as they tell him it’s not his time to go before resurrecting him, and waving to him a final time before fading out the door of the church. Even before I played FFVII, those moments were really powerful. Having played it now, I find it very hard to understand the use of the word “soulless” to describe this movie.

Wrapping It Up

Advent Children is an entertaining film based on one of the most beloved games of all time, but it’s far from perfect, even in its Complete state. However, if you go in mostly for the FFVII fan service and an open mind, there’s a lot to like about this movie and it’s fun to watch. The fight scenes are great, it’s cool seeing the characters fight in ways the original game could never depict, and seeing former enemies unite to stop the return of the biggest threat to humanity is very cool. Unlike so many antagonists in media these days, Sephiroth is allowed to be evil without making an attempt to justify his actions or make him seem sympathetic in some way. He’s just nuts, and that combined with his strength make him terrifying.

I’d recommend watching both versions of Advent Children, but if you’re going to watch just one, make it Complete. While not all of the extra footage was necessary, much of it was genuinely helpful in clearing things up and making the story easier to follow.

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