“Knights of the Zodiac” stars Mackenyu, Famke Janssen, Madison Iseman, Diego Tinoco, Mark Dacascos, Nick Stahl, and Sean Bean. Released on May 12, 2023, the film has a street orphan protecting a girl with a mysterious secret.
The film was directed by Tomasz Bagiński, known for directing short films like “The Cathedral” and “Fallen Art”. He also created cinematics for “The Witcher” games. It is based on the manga series Saint Seiya by Masami Kurumada. The second weekend of May may not have another big movie like the remaining ones. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t many options from different genres for us to watch. One of them was the latest addition to the live-action adaptations of popular manga franchises because everyone loves those (not really). The manga that’s receiving this treatment is Saint Seiya, a franchise that combines fantasy action with Greek mythology. As we all know, at this point, the world of anime never fails to come up with some weird yet intriguing ideas. Does the film have enough moments to maintain the source material’s faithfulness, or does it deserve to be banished by the gods? Let’s find out.
The story follows Seiya (Mackenyu), a headstrong street orphan. Seiya spends his years fighting to find his abducted sister. However, one of his fights has Seiya tapping into a mystical power source he never knew he had. As a result, he finds himself thrust into a war between the mighty warriors known as Saints and a mysterious organization led by Guraad (Janssen). Seiya is then tasked by Alman Kiddo (Bean) to help him protect a young girl named Sienna (Iseman), who was the goddess of war in her previous life and the one Guraad is after. With his world in danger, Seiya must train to become a Knight of the Zodiac while facing his past.
I was on and off about whether to see this movie for many reasons. The obvious one is that the marketing (or lack thereof) didn’t have much appeal to make it more than just a cheap direct-to-streaming film. Regarding its quality, it still baffles me that this got the theatrical treatment instead of going straight to Netflix or some other streaming service we have. The other reason is that I have not read the manga and watched the previous anime interpretations of the franchise. Out of the anime I watched recently, Saint Seiya is one of the few that didn’t interest me. Since I finally decided to see it out of curiosity, I would consider “Knights of the Zodiac” my first exposure to the manga franchise and a test to see if it could make me want to check out the other adaptations in the future. Finally, it’s part of a trend of live-action adaptations of manga franchises that failed to deliver the same expectations as their anime counterparts, with the worst offender being “Dragon Ball Evolution”. A true Dragon Ball fan never forgets that “abomination”, as they stated. Apparently, Hollywood still hasn’t learned this lesson from “Dragon Ball”, as we have another attempt at reintroducing the concept to modern audiences. But, of course, as a curious film fanatic, I always make sure I give specific movies a chance to prove otherwise because that’s how I roll.
“Knights of the Zodiac” is unsurprisingly another fantasy action movie involving an ordinary boy with a mysterious gift being chosen to defend a particular person or thing. In this case, Seiya has the power of the cosmos and is tasked to prevent Sienna from unlocking her goddess powers that could destroy the world. During his journey, Seiya also learns the difference between obsession and purpose as he seeks to find his sister Patricia (Kaylan Teague). That sounds simple and fun enough for the movie to provide genuine popcorn entertainment, right? Well, it’s definitely straightforward, but the fun part? That’s where the film came crashing down like the Saint in the opening scene. As expected from the marketing, “Knights of the Zodiac” is another bland and charmless attempt at bringing a popular manga to live-action.
While the film isn’t without moments of frenetic fantasy action, it couldn’t power through its cheap and underwhelming quality regarding its screenplay and direction. This is another movie that has more than one writer helming the script: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Kiel Murray. However, having more than one writer doesn’t always guarantee a solid hit, with “Knights of the Zodiac” proving this theory. If you’ve watched the other fantasy action movies involving prophecies and fantasy elements, you’ve seen “Knights of the Zodiac”. It provides the formulaic tropes we’ve seen in other films with similar topics, but it’s also hammered down by mediocre characters and corny dialogue. Sadly, I don’t mean it as a “funny ha-ha” type of corny. It’s more like a tedious and groan-inducing type of corny.
The film’s direction didn’t help much, either, with Bagiński providing a style that’s occasionally frenetic but tonally aimless and empty. For a movie that’s supposed to have knights with wings and constellation powers and a girl who’s also a goddess, you’d think it would at least have some light-heartedness and charm amid its thematic depth and fantasy action. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. It has its cheesy moments that almost reminded me of “Power Rangers”. However, the problem is that it takes itself way too seriously to the point where the cheesiness feels more off-putting than humorous. The movie didn’t know whether it wanted to be a dark modern fantasy film or a corny modern fantasy film, leaving me with a sense of dread that’s as destructive as Athena’s powers.
Additionally, “Knights of the Zodiac” provided us with some big-name knights of their own. Sadly, most of them couldn’t prevent the film’s destruction regarding their unenthusiastic performances. Mackenyu, who’s no stranger to live-action adaptations of popular manga series, fills in the shoes of Seiya with mediocre results. Regarding the direction for the character and Mackenyu’s performance, Seiya is the type of protagonist that audiences wanted to root for but struggled to do so due to their charmless personality. Like Bagiński’s direction, Seiya makes for a bland, by-the-numbers character who takes themselves too seriously, even when attempting to provide some humor in their dialogue. Madison Iseman from the recent “Jumanji” movies wasn’t too bad in some moments regarding her role of Sienna, but I wouldn’t say it’s great either. Famke Janssen was also forgettable as Guraad, and don’t ask me why Sean Bean agreed to star in the movie because I have no idea myself.
If there’s one tiny thing I can credit the movie for, it’s the action sequences. The best way I can describe them is that they’re live-action versions of anime fights, complete with Synder-like slo-mo shots and frenetic choreography. The action is the only thing keeping me engaged since it doesn’t rely heavily on shaky-cam maneuvers or choppy editing. They looked cool at first, but after a while, they immediately started to get bogged down by its shoddy CGI and lack of intensity, especially during the final battle.
Overall, “Knights of the Zodiac” is as flashy as the knights’ constellation abilities, but it also lacks the charm and soul of these powerful beings onscreen. Despite the fight scenes being periodically enjoyable, the movie is an overly bland and tonally unambitious mess that fails to provide the fun and charisma of its fantasy elements. More importantly, it is another example of Hollywood’s lack of care in turning animated properties into their modern live-action counterparts, even though I haven’t watched the anime it’s based on. From its empty direction and heavily generic script to the mediocre cast, “Knights of the Zodiac” is worthy of being banished by the film gods. It’s one of the movies you’d find on a streaming service or inside a $5 DVD bin at a local store instead of in the theater, which is still going to bug me for a while. But on the bright side, it got me interested in watching the other iterations of Saint Seiya someday, which would hopefully be better than their soulless counterpart. It’s probably worth watching once if you’re curious enough to see why it’s getting plenty of hate, but you’ll likely forget about it a day after. As for the fans of the source material, they’re better off watching the anime or reading the manga.