‘Knights of the Zodiac’ Review: An Otherwise Potential Franchise Starter That Fizzles in Its First Live-Action Movie

knights of the zodiac review

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The iconic red-and-white cloth, the Make-Up’s ‘Pegasus Fantasy’ anthemic rock theme, and of course, Seiya’s signature flurry of lightning-fast punches of Pegasus Meteor Fist. These are some of the elements that defined the legendary ‘Saint Seiya’ anime series back in the ‘80s. The series certainly isn’t kid-friendly or sanitized, unlike the one seen on the Cartoon Network when it finally arrived in the US in 2003. The latter even toned down the violence to the point the blood becomes blue instead of red in the original series. And if that’s not enough, the US audiences only get to watch 35 episodes of the series rather than the complete 114 episodes as intended.

This brings us to the live-action ‘Knights of the Zodiac,’ marking the first ‘Saint Seiya’ movie in such a format. The movie reminds me of the US edits of the ‘Saint Seiya’ series, and here, it’s all compressed into a so-called accessible PG-13-friendly movie that even non-fans and general audiences can understand the story. But unfortunately, the story – credited to ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ screenwriting duo Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken alongside Kiel Murray of ‘Cars 3’ and Apple TV+’s ‘Luck’ fame – keeps everything here pretty basic. So basic, it looks as if it was lifted from the screenwriting-101 guidebook on how to come up with a simple fantasy-action story. It even made me feel like the story was written using a few keywords and phrases on ChatGPT.

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It goes like this: Seiya (Mackenyu) is a young and reckless cage fighter who fights for Cassios (Nick Stahl). After a fateful night that sees him escape from a fight, he meets a mysterious stranger named Alman Kiddo (Sean Bean). Kiddo ends up taking him to a secluded place, where the human reincarnation of Athena, the Goddess of War (Madison Iseman’s Sienna), has been lying low all this while. We soon learn that Seiya’s destiny is to protect Athena as the knight of the zodiac against Kiddo’s scheming ex-wife, Guraad (Famke Janssen), and her armored foot soldiers.

However, Seiya is not ready until he completes his training. Training that Marin (Caitlin Hutson) is responsible for overseeing his progress, including learning how to unleash his cosmic energy and fight like a warrior.

One thing that ‘Knights of the Zodiac’ gets right is enlisting a Japanese actor (okay, more like a Japanese-American) to play the lead role of Seiya. But despite being the son of the late great Sonny Chiba, Mackenyu looks like a pretty boy cosplaying as Seiya instead of inhabiting his role. It doesn’t help that he has the personality of a piece of wooden plank while the story fails to give him a substantial character arc from a nobody with a vague past to a hero destined for a larger purpose.

Madison Iseman’s Sienna/Athena character feels like she was written for a typical CW fantasy series, while Sean Bean shows up in a mere paycheck role, and not even his mini-reunion with ‘GoldenEye’ co-star Famke Janssen made much of a difference. The latter looks bored most of the time as if she just wants to get over it quickly. The movie also includes Mark Dacascos, who plays Kiddo’s butler and assistant, Mylock, but his role is sadly underwritten.

‘Knights of the Zodiac’ suffers from awfully stilted dialogues, and the movie’s nearly two-hour length feels like an eternity reaching the finish line. The pacing is erratic as Polish filmmaker Tomek Baginski, a former short-film director making his feature-length debut, reportedly spent five years working on the project. But for all his passion that he tries to bring the ‘Saint Seiya’ anime series into a live-action treatment, Baginski’s overall execution lacks the distinctive feel and tone of the former.

Even if a movie is not entirely faithful to the source material, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to cannibalize such a classic anime series like ‘Saint Seiya.’ Everything here is as generic as they get, and Yoshihiro Ike’s score is disappointingly nondescript, with none of the charged-up musical aura heard from the anime series.

Then, there’s Tóth András Dániel and Godena-Juhász Attila’s muted costume design. The predominantly metallic gray with a golden accent seen in Seiya’s armor (it was known as “cloth” in the anime series) instead of the trademark red and white looks like a step-down effort. I wonder who’s in the right mind thinking it’s a good idea to change the color of Seiya’s iconic cloth? Look at what happened to JoséPadilha’s ill-advised 2014 reboot nobody-asked-for ‘RoboCop’ that gave Joel Kinnaman’s titular cyborg cop a typical black-suit makeover.

The special effects are a mixed bag, while the action sequences are the least lifesaver here, but only up to a certain extent. Andy Cheng, the fight coordinator behind ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ adds a sense of realism to the gravity-defying fight scenes. The camerawork is devoid of the jittery shots that plague most modern action movies these days. In other words, you can clearly see what’s happening on the big screen without squinting your eyes or giving you a headache. But Cheng’s elaborate fight choreography somehow lacks a certain visceral or kinetic flair that made the fight scenes in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ look like a Hong Kong action movie of the glory era.

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‘Knights of the Zodiac’ isn’t a one-off movie since Stage 6 Films and Toei Animation reportedly planned to turn it into a whopping six-film franchise. It was an ambitious move since ‘Saint Seiya’ contains enough lore to warrant the size of a franchise. But given the first movie’s watered-down version, it doesn’t look like it deserved a sequel, let alone a franchise.

SCORE: 3/10

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