THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
This will mostly be a character driven review, so I suggest you to leave if you don't want spoilers.
I'm amazed and filled with melancholy.Those are some of the emotions the movie gave me. I'll start off by saying that Heaven's Feel is, without a doubt, the best Fate anime adaption thus far.
When I first heard that Heaven's Feel was going to be a movie series, I was a kinda baffled, I had my doubts: how could three movies deliver without rushing the source material? All those doubts were destroyed when I finally saw the first movie: the movie format, presentation and content actually gave Heaven's Feel a boost that couldn't have been possible if it was a TV series. Before I go in depth to analyze various aspect, I must warn you that the movie is graphically violent compared to pretty much any other adaption of the franchise, precisely because they could get away with it given the the theatrical release. That, combined with the fact that the movie director teased sex scenes in the next movies, is the reason why I must advise you to avoid this movie series if you're younger than 16. Without spoiling what's coming, the route gets pretty heavy in both violence and sexual content.
First and foremost, this movie is a character drama rather than a war between supernatural beings. Yes, Heaven's Feel is unique in that it is a slow burn rather than a bombastic experience. The Holy Grail War and most of the servants take a back seat in favor of the development of the human characters, in particular Shirou, Sakura, Rin and Kotomine. I must say that this was an extremely ballsy and risky move, with potential catastrophic results considering how many people are drawn to the franchise precisely because of the nature of the Holy Grail War, and how much of a popular character Saber is, who is pretty much a side character here. And yet, destroying all my doubts, the movie beautifully delivers what it wants to be. That's the main aspect that sold me about it: the movie knows EXACTLY what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything else. I like confidence, be it with people of products, and as a result I was truly happy that the movie never betrayed itself an stayed true to its premise.
The meat of the movie is the relationship between Sakura and Shirou. What really impressed me is how the director portrayed these two as beautiful, fragile souls that deserved to be happy with each other. Both Shirou and especially Sakura have suffered immensely in their past, and the movie goes all out in showing that, even with lacking the amazing powers and charisma of Gilgamesh or the intellect of Rin and Kirei, Shirou and Sakura have amazing inner strength that keeps them going. Through the movie, the director masterfully conveys the chemistry between these two, as you get the impression that they really understand each other to the point that they naturally get drawn to each other.From the comic relief scenes with Taiga and Issei teasing both of them about their relationship, to the more heartwarming and intimate moments, you can't help but want those two to be happy.It's the little, down the earth moments that make this relationship stand out, like Sakura''s decision to help Shirou with his daily chores since Kiritsugu's death. It's admirable how a person that suffered so much still goes all out to help those she cares about. The duality of their relationship, innocence and admirable will power, is pretty much the backbone of Heaven's Feel as a whole, and, with spoiling what's coming, it will pretty much explode in the most horrifying and beautiful way in the next movies.
Speaking of other characters what stood out this movie for me was Shinji. This Shinji was different from the Shinji in the rest of the franchise. Or rather, it was the same Shinji, but more human. Shinji in Heaven's Feel is different from the cartoon villain he was in UBW. What was a laughable, mustache twirling pushover is replaced with a much more sinister, desperate and bitter being. Don't get me wrong, Shinji is still an absolute despicable human being, but this movie presents him in a new desperate dimension, a much welcoming change from the one dimensional villain in other routes.
The other characters are pretty much the same as their other incarnation, with them being put in a much more otherworldly situation by the horrifying pseudo Servant known as The Shadow. The Shadow is more of a force of nature than a villain so far, despite being the primary antagonist other than Zouken and secret Servant. What I must remark about the Shadow scenes is how masterfully the direction captures the Lovecraftian and errant nature of this being. Historical heroes, known for their daring and glorious actions, are pretty much horrified every time this thing appears, with the lightning of the scene becoming more and more blueish/dark the more it advances. The message is clear: the Shadow doesn't have a concept of dead, it's pretty much impossible to destroy.
While the Shadow is more of a nightmare fuel inducing force of nature, the secret Servant is more of standard villain.The secret Servant is an average servant with a Noble Phantasm really good at killing people. Starting off as a brainless insect, he becomes more and more intelligent as the movie goes on, and by making the best use of his deadly Noble Phantasm while managing to turn the situation in his favor when The Shadow appears, he's pretty much THE main badass aspect of the movie, a nocturnal killer as deadly as the Shadow itself. Still, as said before, this aspect still takes a backseat compared to the relationship between Shirou and Sakura, but it doesn't stop this guy to have the best fight Ufotable ever animated thus far.It's pretty much the main noteworthy fight of the movie and oh boy, Ufotable really delivers.
Despite those horror-like moments that will most likely be increased dramatically in the next movies, the more funny, slice of life scenes during the day are also a treat, especially the glorious Kotomine eating spicy food scene. He gets so hot that he starts unbuttoning his shirt, revealing his manly pecs. This little funny scene still has its meaning: it's kind of a "breathing moment" between all the heavy, more serious staff. That's what I really love about this movie: everything happens for a cause, everything has it's meaning that beautifully blends together.
The art of the movie is simply stunning.To put it simply, you could pretty much stop the movie at any moment and use the images as the background of your computer. The vivid popping out colors and the amazing lightning are an absolute joy for the eyes to see. I was very impressed by how evocative the background were, an absolute masterful work and the best Ufotable ever did. The animation is also amazing and, especially during the longest fight scene in the movie, you could see how much it benefits from being a movie. The more graphic violence helps to highlight how dangerous those supernatural beings are, it gives off a sense of danger and "heaviness" that other part of the franchise didn't have.
The OST, while standard Kajiura stuff, really helps setting the mood of the movie, from the frantic battles to the more somber moments. To put it simply, if you know who Kajiura is, you know exactly what to expect from the movie in terms of music. Nothing revolutionary, but pretty good at helping the atmosphere. The voice acting is, as usual, flawless. I especially like how intimate Sakura and Shirou sound when they're together, but what stole the show for me was the hammy performance of the Secret Servant, who hilariously shares the voice actor of Gamagoori from Kill la Kill.
Overrall, the movie is pretty much a masterful character driven story where you can't help but love what you see, how those characters feel, and most of all, YOU ROOT FOR THEM. This is incredibly important. You want to see Shirou and Sakura happy, because they deserve it. The heartwarming moments mixed with the thrilling sense of doom make it impossible to get bored during those two hours, precisely because the movie goes all out at making you care for these two. Heaven's Feel is pretty much a personal experience: you can't help but get passionated with out Shirou and Sakura fight against fate against all odds, help each other and fall more and more for each other. Their relationship is, simply put, genuine. A must watch for all lovers of character driven, slow burn stories about two people connecting with each other, and a fantastic opening for a trilogy which will most likely end up as one of the best anime movie series of all time.