Technically, this film came out in 2017, so this review is a little late. However, with it coming to Neflix, it means that us westerners have a chance to watch it. I recently had to cancel my Netflix subscription so I didn’t get a chance to watch this right away – but I watched it last night and… well, let’s just get into the review.
So draw your transmutation circle and get ready to learn about equivalent exchange – this is my review of Fullmetal Alchemist!
When brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric try to use Alchemy to bring their dead mother back to life, Al’s body is lost and Ed loses a leg. To save him, Ed bonds Al’s soul to a suit of armour, offering his arm as a cost. Now, as the Fullmetal Alchemist, due to his metal arm and leg, the brothers work as State Alchemists in an effort to return their bodies and limbs. But the Homunculi (Lust, Envy and Greed) stand in their way and plan to use Ed in a sacrifice. What does this all mean?
WHAT I LIKED
Before we start, I just want to apologise as I don’t know any of the actors names. I know I could google them, but… well I’m just lazy! So I do apologise if I don’t mention any of the actors by name here, but I just want to say that the actors here are all perfectly cast. For the most part!
My first thing I want to applaud is the costume design. All the characters look pretty much like they do in the manga. Al’s armour is pitch perfect, as is Ed’s costume. Roy Mustang is perfect, Mae Hughes is spot on, Riza Hawkeye looks badass – and the Homunculi… I didn’t think it would be possible to capture them so perfectly, but I was wrong. Lust in particular was just brilliant! She was every bit as sinister and alluring as in the manga – a very strong villainess if ever I saw one. The guys that played Al and Ed were equally as amazing and took to the part very well. They brought the heroes to life from off the page and really shined in this.
Maes Hughes was also perfectly captured – and was every bit as loveable as he is in the story. For some reason, his wife was only pregnant in this story (whereas his daughter was born in the manga), but it still made it no less sad when he was killed.
The scenery was also spectacular and most of it looked like it was lifted off the page of the manga. So visually it was stunning! No complaints there.
Now being that it was a adapted from a manga that has 50 plus chapters, it was natural that a lot of stuff was going to be cut out. I knew that. Here, the story felt sort of like a “cut and paste” of the best bits of the original story, put together to find a coherent plot. Luckily though, the film kept pretty close to the original story as much as humanly possible whilst also streamlining certain things.
They did add one thing in though, which I thought was pretty interesting. They made Shou Tucker (my most hated character from the story) have more of a central role to the plot, in essence making him kinda of the main antagonist. This was a good twist, but it meant that I had to sit through one of the most distressing scenes ever put to manga and anime. I won’t speak of it, but FMA fans know what I’m talking about, right? I’m actually not sure if his extended role was a new thing or whether that is a playback to the Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 anime, which I haven’t seen fully yet, but it worked, so no complaints there.
So yeah, that was the positives. Great acting, great visuals and plot that following the manga as much as it could. However, there were more than a few issues.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
First of all, whilst I was mostly impressed with the acting, I HATED the characterisation of Winry in this film. In the manga, Winry is a strong, sister-like figure to the Elrics, who is always there to pick them up when they are down. She is the heart and soul of the Elrics; and yes, she is very emotional, but she’s also not afraid to smack the brothers round the head when they act like idiots. Here though, for whatever reason, they made her into a whinny, annoying, little brat. No disrespect to the actress, but she was just terrible. Also, on a side note, she seemed to follow the brothers on their journey a lot more, which means that the brother put her in danger more than once! In the manga, the brothers were very protective of her, and would never knowingly put her in danger – but here, they didn’t seem to care!
Another thing that I was disappointed in was the amount of stuff that got cut out from the main plot in an effort to streamline it. For one thing, the Ishvalan Civil War, which is a major plot point in the manga, is just an afterthought in this film. As such, we don’t get to see Scar appear – and that really upset me as he’s one of my favourite characters in the manga. But he’s not the only fan favourite that is removed entirely. Izumi Curtis – the one who trained the Elric’s – is not even mentioned once in this film. And Alexander Armstrong was cut out as well! Come on! He’s one of the most awesome characters. I guess they just couldn’t find an actor to play him. Quirkily enough, Furher Bradley isn’t even present in the film. They briefly mention him, but he never appears once. These things I can kinda forgive as they had to remove for time, but still.
Also, whilst the story follows mostly well, it seems to omit certain details that could confuse the casual watcher. For example, the film mentions that Ed can create Alchemy without a transmutation circle, but it isn’t really explained in great detail why a transmutation circle is important. And they only give the briefest of explanations of Equivalent Exchange. The movie seems to assume you know about the manga and it’s themes – but seeing as it takes several chapters to truly explain what Alchemy may or not be, and it’s rules, the movie seems to skip most of that. If I hadn’t read the manga, I would probably be confused!
Finally, it has to be said that the special effects and some acting is – questionable. In particular, the opening scene with the child actors playing Al and Ed. They just seemed confused and had no emotion to what they were doing. And the special effects at the beginning just looked cheaply done. I can forgive the child actors, but the special effects should have been better.
Also, a minor nitpick – in the final battle with Lust, Roy Mustang is able to remove her Philosophers Stone and kill her. When in the manga it’s revealed that even if you remove the stone, they can still survive as long as the stone isn’t destroyed.
I really wanted to say that I enjoyed this film immensely, but I felt disappointed by the final result. They did a decent job with the source material, but the plot feels more like an extended trailer, containing the best bits of the manga, just condensed. Acting wise and visually it was stunning, but the lack of certain characters and the poor portrayal of others let it down.
It’s by no means a terrible adaptation, but it’s not an amazing one. However, if it can convince more people to go read the original manga, then maybe that’s a good thing.
My overall feeling is that if you haven’t read the original manga, you might enjoy this if you can follow the slightly confusing plot. If you are a fan of the manga, you might be disappointed, or you might love it. I’m kinda in the middle myself. For me, this film came up a little… short for me! (Another FMA reference for you!)
FINAL SCORE: 3/5
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