After lurking in the ether for several years, Knights of the Zodiac swept into theaters last week and sadly proved that it was not worth the wait.
Knights of the Zodiac
Directed By: Tomek Bagiński
Written By: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Kiel Murray
Starring: Mackenyu, Famke Janssen, Madison Iseman, Diego Tinoco, Mark Dacascos, Sean Bean
Release Date: May 12, 2023
When the news broke a few years back that the story of Saint Seiya was getting a live-action adaptation, it got the attention of a lot of fans of the manga and anime. While I’m not that familiar with the story of Saint Seiya, I do know it holds an iconic status for a reason. Considering the story deals with gods and superpowered Knights, I was intrigued to see what a live-action adaptation of the story might bring to the table.
After filming several years ago, the film was presented to the world as Knights of the Zodiac, and was clearly intended to be the launching point for a franchise. It’s highly doubtful the teased sequel will ever happen because Knights of the Zodiac, to put it bluntly, is a mess.
While not a complete disaster, the first two acts of the film are so clumsily done I was shocked this was a major motion picture. The film follows Seiya as he trains to become a Knight in order to protect the reincarnation of the goddess Athena and is meant to serve as something of an origin story for how Seiya becomes the Pegasus Knight. That’s the intention anyway, but it never really comes together in any proper fashion.
The dialogue in particular between the film’s two leads is particularly atrocious. Sean Bean, bless his heart, tries his best to keep any scene he’s in grounded in some level of quality, but even when he is present it doesn’t always work. I will say the dialogue does improve somewhat in the film’s last act, but it’s not nearly enough to compensate for how bad the first part of the film is.
Then there’s the CGI employed in this film. I’d already had an uneasy feeling when I glimpsed some dubious FX in the trailer, but that didn’t prepare me for just how bad it got. It’s almost as if the film spent the bulk of their SFX budget on the animations attached to the Knights and skimped on everything else. There’s a car chase in the first act that is particularly cringeworthy because of how obviously fake it looked. It kills me to use this comparison, but at times I was reminded of the special effects I’ve seen in cheap TV movies.
As for the story itself, it’s hard for me to say if it’s a truly good adaptation or not, as I’m only familiar with the general story points of Saint Seiya and haven’t actually seen the anime. Based on the little I know, it looks like the Knight’s armor was rendered pretty well into live-action. Though I can’t say for sure, it wouldn’t surprise me if the film took some liberties with the origins of Seiya, but that’s only speculation on my part.
There were, believe it or not, a few bright points in the film. Despite the general poor quality of the film, the fight scenes are fairly entertaining. The climactic fight in the last act is easily the best part of the film. I feel like if the filmmakers had taken the feel of that last fight and applied it to the rest of the film, the story would’ve been so much better. Being based on an iconic anime and manga story, Knights of the Zodiac needed to fully embrace the over-the-top elements of the story throughout the film, not just in the last act. As it is, most viewers I feel won’t have the patience to sit through the clunky mess that precedes an enjoyable finale.
In conclusion, Knights of the Zodiac is sadly not the live-action Saint Seiya adaptation we’ve been waiting for. The teased sequel will likely never come, and the best I can say is that this film will hopefully serve as a template for what not to do should anyone attempt to adapt this story again.