Movie Review: “Fullmetal Alchemist”

   On this edition of Foreign Film Thursdays, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist film, made available on the Netflix streaming service. I’ll start off by sharing how much I dearly covet the anime series. If I were to make a list of my favorite things in-general in-terms of entertainment, I feel comfortable that the series would wind up some place close to the top, and it currently stands as my favorite anime to date.

   I went into this film with in-check expectations. Frankly put, I can’t recall a time ever where we’ve had a really good live-action adaptation of an anime series and Fullmetal Alchemist as a series is a tall-order to try and capture well. This new film was directed by Fumihiko Sori, who can be quoted as saying how dedicated he was in adapting the series to film, going as far to say that he was living for this reason and that it was his dearest wish to adapt the wonderful story to film. Because of that, I wanted to make for certain I approached this film with an open-mind, because I respect anyone who’s truly dedicated to accomplishing something, and whether they succeed or don’t succeed, that’s still admirable and I’d still encourage it through and through.

   Fullmetal Alchemist is a Japanese dark fantasy adventure film starring a considerable cast, based on the manga series of the same name by Hiromu Arakawa. Released by Warner Bros. on December 1, 2017, it adapts various parts of the series. First and foremost, the cast in this film is a mixed-bag of emotions.

   A consequence of a Japanese cast speaking a language I don’t speak is that it’s difficult to really constructively articulate the good and bad in-terms of performance, but I will say I was never made to strongly feel one way or the other from the performances, and oftentimes, the film embraced a hokier, over-the-top vibe that didn’t come off as endearing as it did in the anime series.

   Frankly, it came off more off-putting than anything else. I think I would say the cast is passable in-terms of acting ability, and I thought the actor who played Hughes, and the actors who played the Homunculi came off well, purely from a performance and presence perspective. Edward Elric is front-and-center for this film and I have conflicting thoughts about the actor’s performance. Initially, I didn’t think he looked the part – his blond hair looked like a cheap, fake wig, whether it was or not, and something about it felt more like a cosplay of Edward Elric than Elric himself. However, I will say he grew on me on some level, and I would say he’s passable as well.

   The special-effects had their moments. The director praised them, talking about how it was the same technology used in films like The Avengers and that he wanted it to rival Hollywood productions. I’ll start by saying they don’t look that great, but they have their moments. Alphonse as the suit of armor looks exactly like how he did in the anime series, which is good, but also weird to see in a live-action setting, and the chimera looked good. but some of the action-scenes looked awkward and clunky. I’d call them passable as well.

   The cinematography and music approach leave something to be desired. I think some of the aspects became lost in translation during the transition from an anime or a manga series to a live-action film. Aspects that were over-the-top or silly in the anime series were forgiven, whereas, when, in this film ,they are more cringeworthy. The sentimental music that chimes in during scenes that are meant to have an emotional grasp only took away from the moments in the long-run, as well.

   Everything I’ve mentioned so far, I think it shows that this film tried to provide a faithful adaptation, and, for the most part, I find myself saying that it’s passable in that regard. It doesn’t muddy the waters. The story-line execution is where it delves more into the negative territory in my opinion, however. It’s my opinion that one simply can’t capture the essence of Fullmetal Alchemist in a single film, it simply can’t be accomplished in a way that makes it meaningful. There are certain pivotal moments that are dependent on you caring about the characters you’re seeing on the screen.

   The mistake that’s made in this two-hour plus film is that it tries to hit on far too many parts of the series and because of how shoehorned they feel, none of them amount to much.

   For instance, I think most fans of the series know and very much remember the Nina storyline that happened early in the anime and manga. This adaptation of the series rushes this plot out and thereby, renders its meaning diluted. Nina’s character is given about a sentence of dialogue and the pay-off simply flounders because of it.

   Thereafter, the sequences with Alphonse questioning his own existence, the sequences with Hughes, all of it only makes me think back to how great those moments came across in the anime series.

   The film doesn’t have enough time given to any of the characters to make us care about any of the moments as they happen. Hughes’ character and his payoff in this film would be met with an eye-roll, because we’re barely introduced to the character. This film wanted to hit on some many aspects in the Fullmetal series, but because they’re so hastily strewn together, they effectively hit on none of them.

   The reality is, they could have easily made a live-action film based on the Nina storyline by itself, painting the world and laying the groundwork for later installments, as this film clearly builds up to. Instead, in one swoop, they effectively blew threw some of the series’ best moments. They also completely wiped the Scar character from the series, although, it’s possible they might try to work him in. With its current components, I don’t think this film ever had a chance of achieving true greatness as an adaptation, but if they would have taken their time with it, they could have delivered a legitimately worthwhile film that could have paved the way for an improved sequel.

   Instead, I am not enthused for what the future holds. Honestly, I don’t think we ever need a live-action Fullmetal Alchemist film. For some anime series’, perhaps it allows more spectacle or more adventures, but if all it will be is an under cooked retread, I think we should just leave the great anime series as the final word, aside from a video-game using the anime footage, which I’d be all for.

   I don’t want to ramble on about this film. I think it was faithful, but I don’t think it was brought to the big screen in the best way. It didn’t have the best acting and didn’t build its character well, despite what I think were good intentions. I think it took the best elements of the series and threw them into a blender, and thereby, lost a lot of what made those moments distinctive. I’d recommend it to fans of the series, with, in-check expectations, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a launchpad to the series.

Rating: – 2.5 out of 5.0