Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within – A New World, One Way Or Another

TSW-00033Back in prison, the laser bars fail and a loudspeaker begins to broadcast an evacuation order. And then the action scene starts and I can start to cover large spans of time with less summary coverage! Fun times! Gray and Aki are briefly separated from the others by Phantoms, but they all reunite quickly, the Deep Eyes having secured a military vehicle complete with heavy weaponry. During their brief time apart, we learn the Phantoms are now fully visible. Gray says that it’s probably because they passed through the barrier, which is presented with all the air of a line that’s meant to be authoritative and correct. I find this fascinating because we know that it’s actually not true: we know the Phantoms went through the power lines and that’s where they picked up their charge. What an odd little path we took to get here!

After some scenes of chaos in the city (including the death of Dwight Schultz’s one-scene character, an interesting re-use of existing assets), the Deep Eyes decide to go find Aki’s impounded ship from the beginning of the film, probably because it’s the only way they can guarantee finding a space ship with the keys, so to speak. Blocked by a meta, Neil makes a risky jump, but while they escape, Ryan takes a piece of debris to his gut, an innocuous but realistic sort of injury that’s kind of surprising from a film. Their vehicle also loses one of its wheels. Luckily, they’re close enough to the ship to walk, so they split up: Ryan will be forced to stay behind temporarily, armed with the mounted cannon on the back of the ship, while the others prep for launch in various ways, Gray going to the control tower.

TSW-00034Everything goes well at first, until they realize a towing device is still anchored to the ship. Neil starts to hotwire the thing (as set up in the scene with him hotwiring the platform to strand Aki and Gray earlier in the film). Once again, this scene treats us to a mention of the eight spirit stuff being “mumbo-jumbo,” which I still argue doesn’t match what the film is saying, but whatever at this point. Unfortunately, Phantoms start to attack, and while Jane holds them off long enough for Neil to finish the job, Neil is suddenly killed on the spot when a Phantom phases through the floor to kill him. And this sort of opens its own plot hole, doesn’t it? Because if the Phantoms can phase through the floor and directly into their targets, why haven’t they been doing it all along? It seems like a guaranteed way to kill anyone they want! Anyways, Jane literally shouts “Noooooooo!” because these writers are hacks, but soon finds herself surrounded by tentacles from a huge meta. Gray repeatedly shouts at her over their earpieces to flee, but Jane, her ammunition depleted, recognizes what the audience can already see, and surrenders, essentially already dead.

Now the surviving cast have to deal with the fact that a humongous meta is just outside the ship. Gray does an action dive through some glass to jump in their direction (this leads to one of my favourite “bloopers” created for the special features section, where he knocks himself out in the process), and tries to distract the meta with gunfire, but it isn’t working. Just then, Ryan starts firing with his heavier gun and that works, and he even succeeds in pulling an FPS game cliché and blowing up some explosive barrels to kill the beast, only for another to phase through the floor and kill him too. God, they’re just discarding the cast now that they’re not required, aren’t they? Paint-by-numbers storytelling. Shit is the quality plunging fast. Aki gets the ship in the air, and is able to rescue Gray from the meta despite his protests. The film even goes into slow-mo to show his jump into the ship, it’s so tacky.

TSW-00036Aki, Gray and Sid are now in outer space for whatever reason, and after a weird shot where Aki’s mouth moves but no sound comes out, as if for effect, only for Gray to speak a few second later? And then the two end up kissing? Meanwhile, Hein is also in space, fussing over his gun until he only has one bullet left, which he brings to his temple in an attempt to kill himself. But he can’t do it, and instead, he sets course for the Zeus cannon to complete his revenge.

Back on Aki’s ship, the party, as I now feel comfortable calling them now that the military terminology has been murdered alongside half the cast, scan the planet in the off-chance of finding the eighth spirit. And sure enough, they find it by searching an area they never would have in the past: the impact crater, where surely no life could have survived. They quickly work out what happened: the eighth spirit is a Phantom that came into contact with some manner of earth life instead of the other way around. If you’ve been paying attention, each spirit comes from a different branch of life, with the exception of the two humans, to represent the whole of the Gaia or whatever. This small twist fits the pattern. Since they can’t possible capture the phantom, Sid plans to instead deploy the wave right from the impact crater via Aki’s chest-plate medical device, with the eighth spirit simply nearby. Obviously this is a potential suicide mission, and Gray protests, but he’s outvoted.

Hein arrives at the Zeus and is interrogated remotely by Keith David’s council member, who survived by evacuating to Houston, but he gets clearance to fire. Obviously this is going to happen while the party is at the crater itself. I mean, don’t you know anything about tension?

TSW-00037The party arrives in the Caspian Mountains and begins their investigation using a strange vehicle suspended by cables from Aki’s ship like a marionette. Aki and Gray are in the device, while Sid remains in the ship. A portable barrier on the vehicle keeps them safe, causing Kyle to protest the soldiers not carrying portable barriers in their marine getup. I think it’s possible that the battery required for that sort of thing is a bit too big for them, but it’s still a valid complaint, especially since we know the soldiers do carry batteries like the one on this very vehicle!

The tension doesn’t last long: Hein notices Aki’s ship, decides to shoot anyways (passing on word that this is “just a traitor under the influence of the enemy,” without providing any evidence or context, and no one protests!) and the Zeus fires before the party can even reach the eighth spirit, Sid sadly announcing that the spirit has been destroyed. Anticlimactic! They didn’t even bother to show it! Zeus fires again, and this is when things get a little wild, as massive, Phantom tentacles spawn from the meteor. One of them pulls Aki and Grays’ vehicle loose, and they only survive thanks to the green energy-pillows from the start of the film. Aki sends a message to Hein (just sort of assuming he’s in charge?) and she explains what’s going on as she understands it, saying the tentacle is the Gaia of the alien homeworld – or possibly a new Gaia created by the cluster of souls on this particular rock, I don’t know for sure. Hein points out that this doesn’t matter, since the aliens are still trying to destroy the world, but Aki insists the Zeus will only make them stronger.

Annnd… why? The idea here is never really explained, but here’s how I understand it: every time you kill a Phantom, it returns to its Gaia in the meteor as per a “regular” Lifestream, and it’s these regenerated Phantoms, not Phantoms “in hibernation” like the humans originally thought, that reinforce the losses of the original. In short: the same number of ghosts are active at any given time. By firing the Zeus, Hein killed a lot of Phantoms and they all respawned all at once as this tentacle thing. But here’s the thing: now that he’s fired twice, it’s pretty safe to assume that he’s killed every Phantom in the area. It’s not going to get any stronger because the same ones are just going recycle over and over. There are a few “loose” Phantoms encroaching on Aki and Gray that might be added to the tentacles, but at this point, it’d be like adding an inch to a skyscraper! Firing the Zeus shouldn’t make anything stronger any longer! The fact of the matter is that the writers were approaching this in a cliché manner and didn’t care about the nuances: what’s really happening here is that everything General Hein wants is Bad because he is The Villain, and everything Aki wants is Good because she is The Protagonist.

TSW-00038Hein repeats that Aki is an alien spy and fires again, insisting that they continue to fire even when the gun begins to overheat. The system eventually locks him out, but he says, “We’ll see about that.” No one on the bridge reacts. Back on the surface, the shots cause the ground to break and Aki and Gray’s vehicle falls into it, their shield failing. And here’s the only thing I remembered about TSW over the years: the setting of the finale. Aki and Gray in a crevasse, with the alien Gaia above them… and the Terran Gaia below, a blue sea of Lifestream. You know: barely deeper into the earth than your average mine, somehow undiscovered by the entirety of human civilization.

Hein goes into the depths of the Zeus alone and disables the safeties on the cannon. Must have a detailed manual on how to self-destruct the gun up there!

Aki contacts Sid, who suspects the (late) eighth spirit originally came into being when a Phantom intercepted a new life spawning from Earth’s Gaia, and suspects that the open Gaia might cause another Phantom to become the spirit in the next few seconds. He orders Gray to stop firing and also not to move, and then has the gall to say, “Combat strategy is your area of expertise, not mine,” as though he left him any remaining options!

TSW-00039Unfortunately, the influence of the encroaching Phantoms causes Aki to faint and begin a final dream. In said dream, her parasite manifests out of her chest as a humanoid Phantom, which attacks her, but as it does, a white glow comes out of it and destroys the Phantom, causing the wasteland to become a grassy field. I can’t imagine how I got this film confused with Titan A.E.. Aki realizes this means that the wave has somehow completed itself (presumably with the help of her parasite? is her parasite itself the eighth Phantom?), but this scene is also the only hint we get for something else that’s about to happen. This is weird, because it’s Gray who acts on this information, which he never even saw!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Aki hooks up her chest plate to their vehicle, and orders Gray to give him the battery on his plasma cannon, which he does with protest, constantly panicking and reaching out to retrieve it during the following moments. The wave takes a while, but it finally projects, destroying nearby Phantoms and a good chunk of the tentacles. Soooooo… game over, right?

Meanwhile, in space, Hein manually triggers another cannon blast, firing unknowingly directly into Earth’s Gaia. Despite warnings from the station’s computer, he tries to fire again, only for the entire station to blow up. Ah, good, General Hein gets his comeuppance… along with the deaths of who knows how many innocent technicians who knew him for all of an hour. Divine justice.

TSW-00040Unfortunately, it seems that Hein’s final blast has destroyed Aki’s vehicle, so they no longer have anything that can project the wave. Moving out of the flames and towards the edge of the cliff and Gaia, Gray seems to be dying… despite not having a mark on him, but I guess internal injuries are a thing. It’s just: the same was true for Major Elliot and it’s starting to look like the filmmakers just didn’t want to depict as much as a bloodstain. Gray seems to have a plan, offering to save Aki at his own expense. Without an explanation, he leads her down onto a highly convenient ledge just about a person’s height below their own. Aki insists he not “leave [her],” and he replies “You’ve been trying to tell me that death’s not the end. Don’t back out on me now that I finally believe.” Yeah, maybe it’s the cliff side but this feels incredibly FFIX to me, you know? Also: why does Gray “finally believe?” Anyone? Because he saw some cells work out the code to blow up some ghosts?

Still holding Aki’s arm with one hand, Gray reaches out to a passing tentacle with the other, with a somewhat overdramatic, “I love you,” as his final words. The energy of the wave in Aki’s chest plate transfers up from one hand to the other and into the tentacle. From there, it spreads throughout the alien Gaia. We even see the wave rising through space in a giant pillar – the fuck? – from what’s clearly not a picture of Africa. Energy rises into a sky like little spheres, and Aki and Gray’s body are rescued from the crevasse to see the sunrise, including that fucking hawk from earlier. A pop song plays us out, the credits roll. Y’all feeling hopeful in the theatre stands? Well too bad because it’s over now, one way or another.

As we’re packing up, the credits inform us that the film is dedicated to the memory of Jack Liao, one of its senior programmers, who died during production.

TSW-00042The critics rave! “Not as bad as we remembered!” “Probably the best of the three Final Fantasy films, though that’s admittedly not saying much!” “I’m still probably not going to watch it again!” It’s not a great film, in fact it’s wobbling precariously on the edge of even being an “okay” film, but I think it ultimately pratfalls and makes it onto the “okay” side. It’s extremely cliché, and you can absolutely see why it didn’t capture anyone’s interests and bombed, but it’s more that it’s “incredibly mediocre” to me than outright “bad.” Despite its lower Metacritic score (49) than lowest-scoring Final Fantasy game, Dirge of Cerberus (57), I think it’s probably better than DoC, though also less likely to ride the wave of “so bad it’s good” that I’ve had with DoC lately. I’m not likely to race to watch it again, but I’m also not going to banish it to the shadow realm with FFIII DS, P1, or P2EP.

Now that we’re done with The Spirits Within, I’m going to properly link our already completed coverage of Final Fantasy Unlimited as part of the Marathon chronology, as the show began airing on October 2001, after TSW but before the North American launch of FFX in North America. If you haven’t read FFU, feel free to get started with the link below! As for regular updates: next week! We begin our second Marathon Look-Back, this time at the PSX era and its various sequels!

Prev: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Next: Final Fantasy Unlimited – The Man with the Summon Gun


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