VOD Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

VOD Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

The live action adaptation of the fan favorite anime Fullmetal Alchemist hits most of the dramatic beats of the show, but when it comes to action, this retelling comes up noticeably short.

When Netflix commissioned a live action adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, the Otaku community went “nani?”. Don’t get me wrong, Fullmetal Alchemist is wildly popular; so popular that it already got two TV series and an epilogue OVA. The Fullmetal mine felt like it had already been fully exploited. What could a live action movie do that hadn’t already been done?

The answer is: not much. This movie is trying so hard to look and feel like the anime that it doesn’t spend any time or effort being its own animal. As such, it’s just a cover-band sampling some of the best bits from the TV shows. Every once in awhile it hits the notes well enough to create nostalgia, but is that really justification enough for a fourth (counting the manga) telling of this story?

Fullmetal Alchemist (2017)

Fullmetal AlchemistEdward and Alphonse Elric are two brothers growing up in the countryside. Their father, a famous alchemist, has been gone for some time, leaving the two in the care of their mother. The brothers are prodigies at alchemy as well; a skill they decide to use for taboo purposes when their mother suddenly passes away. The two attempt to resurrect their mother, and things go terribly wrong. Ed loses two limbs, and Al loses his entire body, barely surviving by having his soul attached to a nearby suit of armor.

Ed blames himself for the incident. He decides to undo the damage by finding a philosopher’s stone, an alchemical relic of immense power. To do so, he signs up with the military to become the youngest state-sanctioned alchemist: The Fullmetal Alchemist.

Cosplay Conventions

Fullmetal Alchemist
Just like the show.

Fullmetal Alchemist is trying noticeably hard to look exactly like the anime. Al’s armor looks exactly like it does in the cartoon. Envy, Gluttony, and Lust look exactly like they do in the cartoon. Ed… tries to look exactly like he does in the cartoon. The aesthetic of the manga/anime was distinctly Germanic, so turning a Japanese actor into a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy didn’t quite work. On the whole though, almost everyone you knew from the source material(s) looks like they stepped right out of the show(s).

Fullmetal Alchemist
My Man

Thankfully, fan favorites Maes Hughes and Nina are the best of the adaptations. Both Ryuta Sato (Hughes) and the little girl (sadly not credited anywhere I looked) who plays Nina are nearly 1:1. Which is crucial, because their arcs are some of the meatier ones in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Tall on Drama…

Fullmetal Alchemist
You still got me, you bastards. *sniff* You still got me.

Stuffing basically a full season’s worth of content into a little over two hours necessitates some editing. When it comes to the emotional content of Fullmetal Alchemist, director/screenwriter Fumihiko Sori doesn’t skimp. All the most compelling arcs are present, from the cruel experiments of Shou Tucker to the tragic fate of Captain Hughes. It even manages to one-up the shows by not beating around the bush that Ed and Winry both feel like they are a little more than friends.  If you came to get a full dose of Fullmetal Feels, this movie is going to satisfy.

…Short on Action

Fullmetal Alchemist
“Don’t think I don’t notice you using the word ‘short’ every chance you can get.”

If you were looking for bad-ass battles using crazy Alchemy: sorry. Other than an opening fight between Ed and a corrupt priest, and a showdown between Ed, Roy Mustang, and Envy, this movie is loathe to use up its budget on magic. As such, certain characters from the show are cut altogether. If you wanted a sweet flexing Major Armstrong or the Alchemist-hunter Scar, you’ll have to hope for a sequel.

Fullmetal Alchemist
“Why no, I didn’t just eat a whole bell-pepper. Why do you ask?”

The decision robs Ed and Roy Mustang of their swagger, and reduces their characters. Ed’s character isn’t nearly as interesting without him being a cocksure prodigy. We almost never see him do a damn thing with his alchemy, and he even spends a large part of the final battle without his signature auto-mail arm. Similarly, the movie does it’s best to keep Colonel Mustang’s fire smothered and covered. As such, you just have to infer that he’s a cool badass by the way he peacocks around like Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef.

Halfmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t bad. It does the emotional stuff right, and for the most part the acting is quite good. When it does use special effects, they are reasonable. Gluttony’s transformation veered into Power Rangers villain goofiness, but at least they spent the five bucks trying to look cool. So all in all, Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t bad; it also isn’t necessary.

Fullmetal Alchemist
Whoa lady! That’s not what the fans meant when they said they wanted a better look at your chest!

Nothing is done better than the shows, and its slavish attempt at mimicry makes this Fullmetal Alchemist redundant. If this movie had tried to tell a new story, or add its own sense of style, I could see a case for its existence. I’m sure that would have been controversial for fans, so instead we get two hours of fan service (and I don’t mean panty shots of Winry).

If you’ve already watched Fullmetal Alchemist, Conquerors of Shambala, and FMA: Brotherhood to death, this movie is another booster shot of the Elric Brothers. Other than that, two hours with Fullmetal Alchemist 2017 isn’t going to feel like an equivalent exchange: half the formula is missing.

Fullmetal Alchemist
Maybe more saltpeter next time?

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