HomeReviews2.5/5 ReviewKnights of the Zodiac - Film Review

Knights of the Zodiac – Film Review

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knights of the zodiac film review
knights of the zodiac film review

Until a few months ago, the phrase ‘live-action anime’ would give an anime fan the willies. But, like ‘video game adaptation’, it was just waiting for someone to buck the trend. Video game adaptations got the fantastic Last of Us and, to a degree, Sonic the Hedgehog. Live-action anime, as of just two months ago, got One Piece. 

What One Piece proves is that a good property, cash, and a love for the source material can lead to high viewership. It also shows that a lot of the stuff deemed ‘unfilmable’ by anime die-hards is, in fact, filmable – again, as long as you have commitment to the source material. It feels like a pattern, a secret sauce, is forming here. 

We mention this because Knights of the Zodiac is a live-action anime. It’s based on the manga  Saint Seiya by Masami Kurumada, which is a name that gamers might recognise (if they weren’t aware of the original manga), as tie-ins have launched on PlayStation consoles for some time now. Why is it not called Saint Seiya? We don’t know – but it might just be to dodge the live-action anime conversation.

We were eager to find out which side of the fence it fell on. Was it on the One Piece side? Or would it join Cowboy Bebop, Death Note and Dragonball Flipping Evolution on the side we don’t speak of? You may not like the answer. 

The action centres on Seiya, played by teen sensation Mackenyu who has shot to fame off the back of – here it comes again – One Piece. He’s a fighter in an underground MMA ring, notorious for dancing round his opponents rather than actually putting fists to flesh. In a battle with his narked boss, Cassios (Nick Stahl, who we haven’t seen since Sin City and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), he calls on a latent power called, slightly comedically, Cosmo. This power is like adding chum to the water, as other Cosmo users are immediately aware of him and where he is. So, he finds himself in a tug-of-war between two rival X-Men-like factions: the good guys, led by Sean Bean, and the baddies, led by Famke Janssen. We know they’re baddies as they wear evil black bodysuits, and because, well, Famke Janssen. 

He picks Sean Bean, which is never a good idea, as Sean Bean will undoubtedly die. Them’s the rules. But it turns out to be useful as Sean Bean is Dr Exposition, and informs Seiyu that the gods exist, and his adopted daughter, Sienna (Madison Iseman, Jumanji) is the reincarnation of the goddess Athena. Seiyu is to train to become the Pegasus Knight and guard Athena/Sienna with his life. Famke Janssen will do anything to kill Athena, because there’s a vision-prophecy thing that states she will destroy the world. 

This is the setup for some back-talk from Seiya, an elaborate (and far too long) training montage with another of the Knights of the Zodiac, and some fisticuffs with Famke’s lot. As a film structure goes, it’s as nakedly a Hero’s Journey as you could possibly concoct. This is not a film that cares a jot about doing anything new. 

Knights of the Zodiac gets a few things right. A few of the actors are genuinely giving it a shot, rather than phoning it in. Sean Bean does his world-weary chap-routine well, and clearly cares about the film. Famke Janssen and Nick Stahl, too, try to haul it across the line. Best of all is Mark Dacascos, perennially in B-list thrillers, but seeing something of a renaissance with this and John Wick: Chapter Three. His Mylock lights up the screen every time he’s allowed near it, which is – unfortunately – not often. He’s the right-hand man to Sean Bean, and if we ever gained a right-hand man, we’d want it to be him.

There’s also a solid attempt to bring anime sequences to life. When the action is relatively down-to-earth, with traditional martial arts augmented by Cosmo blasts, it can look great. There’s a dynamism to the battles, as Cosmo-infused punches cause opponents to hit rocks that they then use to springboard back to their opponents. This magic-realist fighting is framed like an anime series, and it lands well. 

But both of these good points are one side of a raggedy coin. Because while there are good performances, there are wooden ones. We don’t blame the actors: the script is risible tosh, and the two main characters get the lion’s share of said tosh. Seiyu can be sulky and unlikeable, while the usually talented Madison Iseman can’t wring a character out of Sienna/Athena. When they’re together, there is a complete absence of chemistry, and those scenes tend to die a death. 

And while the Cosmo-enhanced action is good, the final act decides to pull a Scorpion King and slather everything in 2000’s era CGI. Knights of the Zodiac becomes a PS3-era fighter, with two characters coming to blows in a computer-generated arena. It’s terrible, and it doesn’t manage to feel real OR a heightened anime. It’s a computer game, and a low budget one at that. 

What ties everything up in a bow is a fumbled pacing. Director Tomasz Baginski (The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf) can’t quite figure out where the audience’s attention lies, so spends too long on the duff stuff (an eternal training montage, constant references to the same flashback), and too little on the stuff that matters. Plot points whizz past (who is Nero? What is Cosmo?) at such speed that you wonder whether important elements were cut. It’s entirely possible they were being saved for Knights of the Zodiac 2. Because of course this is an attempt at an expanded universe. 

Talented actors and heightened martial arts stop Knights of the Zodiac from tumbling into the pit marked ‘Dragonball Evolution and The Last Airbender’. But there will still be moments where the eyes roll and you think back to those movies. This is not the film to carry the ‘live action anime’ torch from One Piece. If anything, it makes you wonder if One Piece was a one-off.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Sean Bean, Famke Janssen and others lift the film up
  • Some Cosmo action sequences are thrilling
Cons:
  • Ending that’s swamped in bad CGI
  • A final-act villain comes out of nowhere and offers little
  • Script has some quotably bad moments
  • A few performances let it down
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 52mins | 2023
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Sean Bean, Famke Janssen and others lift the film up</li> <li>Some Cosmo action sequences are thrilling</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Ending that’s swamped in bad CGI</li> <li>A final-act villain comes out of nowhere and offers little</li> <li>Script has some quotably bad moments</li> <li>A few performances let it down</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 52mins | 2023 </ul>Knights of the Zodiac - Film Review
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