Let's discuss a scenario here. You've got material from a Visual Novel that requires hours of gameplay. These characters are extremely popular, so you want to give them all their fair share of screen time. Not only that, but they are all incredibly complex. The situation they find themselves in? Even more complex.
They have to explain the Holy Grail War, why these people have been chosen, who their Servants are, why there even are Servants, establish allegiances, create a believable romance, have characters go through development, and stage the big, ultimate battle.
In eighty-ninety minutes.
So, Fate/Stay Night unlimited blade works is a 2010 film based off of the hit Fate/Stay Night visual novel, taking from it's "unlimited blade works" alternate route that focuses primarily on Rin, but also Shirou and Archer's relationship. It's out in English as well, that version coming out in 2012.
Like I said, the story focuses on two young mages, Rin Tohsaka and Shirou Emiya, both coming from very different backgrounds but bound by the same...fate...as it takes place ten years after the previous (the 3rd) Holy Grail War, in which both of their parents battled it out in the war. The movie doesn't make much mention of that, so it's worth noting here.
What's the Holy Grail War? Well it's when the "Holy Grail" calls seven different Mages to one location, in this case a Japanese city known as Fuyuki City, and summons seven Servants to fight alongside the Mages, all vying for the Grail to have a wish granted. It's no spoiler to say that Rin gets Archer and Shirou gets Saber, as it's all over cover arts that they're together.
From there, it's a hot mess of action and intrigue as many mysterious things begin happening around the city that involve the mages while other Masters move in to make their mark, all while a mysterious figure from the past makes its way straight for the Holy Grail, seeking to end all of mankind.
I'll get the negatives out of the way first, as those are kind of on the forefront and are what stuck out to me most during the film. But there are positives, I promise!
Given how much had to be in the story and how the film had to show certain events in order for other things to make sense, there is a clear pacing issue here. We jump multiple times from one place to another with little explanation. For instance, in the beginning, after the first few battles against Lancer (not voiced by Grant George but it's okay, it's not the same character), Rin and Shirou are suddenly inside the main church where the "fake priest" Kirei Kotomine (not voiced by Crispin Freeman but whatever) with little segue. We barely see anything of Assassin and Rider hardly has any importance besides her the reveal of who her Master is (then again in the main story she also has little role as well).
Some have noted this movie as feeling like a clip-show and I can agree with that. Things just happen and there's little time given for the character to breathe in between moments for things to flow properly. Caster's Master? Pft. Whereas there's a great backstory for them, that's hardly here at all as well. The fights are also pretty short because of this, except for the final battles.
Which, even then, don't make much sense. Okay, they don't make much sense normally, but at least in the latest adaptation--a TV series (on Netflix, by the way)--we're given the final five or six episode to develop Shirou both as a character and as a warrior to take on his final foes, making the battles all the more epic. Here they aren't mediocre-level fights but they don't have an insane amount of intensity. Part of that reason might be that I was spoiled to it, but, I was never really engaged in what was going on. There was never this gripping, engaging factor that kept me going, and that was because the pacing never allowed me to care enough.
Certain characters die but I can't feel emotionally attached to them because I haven't spent as much time with them as I have Shirou, Saber, or Rin. Also, the big reveal at the end regarding Shirou feels somewhat downplayed, too, because they are forced to just glance over it. Sure, in the show it was almost ridiculous that Shirou never figured it out until later, but at least there it had an element of great buildup and when Shirou did finally figure it out was a big step up in his character.
Most of the problems with the film stem from the pacing, so, let's speak on a more technical level. The dubbing was just off. The actors are fine but it sometimes seemed like their dialogue didn't match the lip flaps. And this came out in 2012, things were getting pretty high-level at this point. Most of the actors did a fine job. Sam Regel, Mena Lee, and Michelle Ruff all turned in great performances for our three main characters, and everyone else played their part right, no real standouts, though.
On the plus side, though, the film does touch on many important elements to the story so things do make sense going through it a second time, and on a second viewing I'm sure one could fill in many of the blanks that are necessary to getting where the story is coming from and where it is going. And the final battle does feel grand and scary for the characters, with a sense of finality to it all as well as a great urgency to it.
Plus it looks fantastic, as the "Fate" series is wont to do at this point. The animation is crisp and there are few moments where it seems to drop off. The battles are also done in a spectacular way given how rushed the films are, as they are easy to follow and a spectacle to behold. It's always great to watch a movie like this where the animation doesn't deter just to have higher quality during a fight, it shows that everything else going on is equally important as the battles at hand.
Overall, if you've never seen this film but are interested, I'd recommend passing it up and watching the series on Netflix. Don't have that kind of time? Then go ahead and watch it, just be sure to pay attention to what's going on as things go by rather quickly.
If you've already seen Fate/Zero--which you SHOULD go watch like right now if you haven't--then this will be a satisfying view to see what happens after that show's events, but again, a more satisfying follow-up is the television adaptation of the story. It's not a bad movie, it's good, but it's not what it could be given a longer run-time, which is very unfortunate.