Review by Cole Groth
I knew nothing about Knights of the Zodiac, nor the manga it’s based on, Saint Seiya, before watching it. While I won’t be able to comment on how faithful this is to its source material, I can confidently say that if you’re looking for an entertaining fantasy/adventure film, this has delivered. With fun art direction, a solid cast, and a fascinating story, Tomasz Bagiński’s directorial debut is a worthwhile watch.
Knights of the Zodiac tells the story of Seiya, an orphan with a knack for fighting who is recruited to save the universe. He’s tasked with a mission: protect a young woman, Sienna, the reincarnated form of Athena, the goddess of war. Sounds easy enough, right? In this world, a plethora of generic bad guys will do whatever they can to stop this from happening. Seiya has to go on a wild quest of self-discovery to be the mighty Pegasus Knight he’s destined to become.
With this film posing itself as the first in a potential franchise (in Japan, it’s titled Saint Seiya: The Beginning), it’s essential to settle down with a good group of actors. With Japanese actor Mackenyu as the lead, they’ve already done a good job. His acting can be somewhat spotty at times, but that seems more of a fault of the screenplay and its clunky dialogue rather than his performance. Madison Iseman, Jamke Beumer Janssen, and an ever-wonderful Sean Bean support him. This cast isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly better than most young-adult-oriented fantasy films.
The special effects are a standout. Working on a $65 million budget and with my low expectations of Marvel/DC movies with $200 million budgets, I wasn’t expecting the large amount of CG to look good. I was wrong. The talented crew of visual effects artists did a stellar job at making the world come to life. The fantasy elements required a lot of perfection to work, and it looks fantastic. Another shout-out belongs to the stunt crew and cinematographer. It takes a lot to bring the energy of a manga or anime to live-action, and both the stunt choreography and great camerawork make this transition a very smooth one. It’s a good-looking film on all accounts.
Audiences loyal to the manga might find this adaptation to be sanitized. It feels like a much thinner story than what would’ve been told in even a few of the original volumes, with each story beat feeling like an amalgamation of other superhero movies. While the overall premise is good enough to keep it feeling fresh, the story doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it surely should’ve been.
Adapting manga or anime to the live-action scene has been particularly difficult for American studios. Knights of the Zodiac still suffers from the overarching problems of trying to please both a general audience and the core who loved the original content. With a decent leading cast, great visual effects, and a solid set of action pieces, this might not be perfect, but it’s a great time and will be a fun experience to see on the big screen.
Knights of the Zodiac releases in theaters starting May 12.