When it comes to adapting something like a video game or anime to live-action, I’m generally more confident with the Japanese making something that true to the spirit of the original than America’s version. I had a blast with the live-action version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and the Rurouni Kenshin films. They were made by the Japanese and they did a remarkable job with capturing the feel and the essence of the game and the anime. So, when I heard they made a live version of Fullmetal Alchemist, one of my favorite shows ever, I was stoked. It also appears as if Netflix knew that a lot of fans were excited for it as the snatched up the rights to distribute it. They knew American fans would immediately want to watch it. Smart move, Netflix.
Unfortunately, I think Netflix would’ve been better off just getting both Fullmetal Alchemist anime series instead of this because the live action version is pretty terrible.
Now, this review is going to be SPOILER FREE, which is kind of odd because I have a sneaking suspicion that fans already gobbled it up the instant it was up on Netflix’s servers. But, as this is still a relatively new film and there may still be some fans who haven’t seen it, I’ll go refrain from revealing any major plot points here.
Fullmetal Alchemist takes places in an alternative timeline where alchemy has surpassed science as the primary tool of technology. Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers lose their mother at an early age and attempt the forbidden process of bringing her back to life using human transmutation as this breaks alchemy’s primary rule of Equivalent Exchange. This act causes Edward Elric to lose his right arm and his left leg while his brother’s spirit is locked in a suit of armor. The brothers now search the world for the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary artifact that allows alchemists to break the rule of Equivalent Exchange so Edward can get his limbs back and so Al can get his regular body.
I will say the best thing about the live-action version of Fullmetal Alchemist are its outdoor sets. Some of the scenic shots are really pretty. From what I’ve read, most of the film was filmed in Italy and it really looks like all the exterior shots were lifted directly from the anime itself. There are a lot of scenes where you can see the lush countryside and European cobblestone citiscapes and they look amazing.
I also actually like what they did with Al’s armored body look as it looks just like in the anime. I always liked Al’s overall design and I’m glad they managed to capture its bulky look. They put a lot of detail into making it look like the Al from the anime. From the little screws that connect the joints to the spikes on his shoulders and even the glow in his eyes, I do say it looks good… in still shots. Unfortunately, whenever Al does start moving, he moves in a somewhat jerky motion and there’s no mistaking that he’s a fully CGI character. I guess most people won’t really notice it because they did a reasonably good job with the CGI here but there were just a few too many scenes where Al moved a little too awkwardly for my taste.
Sadly, it looks like most of the special effects budget was spent on rendering Al in live-action, as most of the other visual effects look really bad. Most of the shots that use some kind of computer generated effect looks awful. Some of them, like Ed’s automail arm and the climatic scene where there’s a huge battle between the government forces and the “army” of the primary antagonist of the film, look bad. But all of those shots pale in comparison to how laughably terrible to the special effects they used for Gluttony. I actually laughed out loud when I saw this scene.
The costumes also don’t look all that great as well. All of the Homunculuses (Homunculi?) all look like very bad cosplay performers. Special mention has to go to Envy for looking like some weird emo teen hobo who managed to get cast in the role. Ed looks like a poor man’s version of the character from the anime. I generally think they did an adequate job with the outfits of the State Alchemists, however.
The acting overall is bad. I do know this film is based on an anime and it’s widely known that animes almost always have exaggerated emotional moments. However, the live version of Fullmetal Alchemist manages to never get that weird mix right. The emotional moments are just too over-the-top to take seriously and the comedic, lighthearted moments are understated. It feels incredibly artificial and as if no heart was put into the acting. The only performance I really enjoyed was from the guy who played Maes Hughes as he somehow managed to capture the likability of a family man who’s still serious about his job. Then again, I may be a little biased as Maes Hughes was my favorite side character in the anime.
But I haven’t gotten to the worst part of the film and that’s the plot. The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist tries to jam too much of the story from the anime and the manga into the film’s 135-minute runtime and it’s just too much to digest in that amount of time. The story feels like a mishmash of all of the major events of the early part of the anime but it squeezed out of all of its emotional content in the process. The entire film comes off as hollow and devoid of any real sentimental feelings. Even the explanation of Equivalent Exchange, one of the main driving points of the anime and most beautiful philosophical aspects of the series, is glossed over the film.
Also, since they tried to force all of the good story elements of the early parts of the show, it becomes incredibly hard to follow both the characters and the story. In the middle of the film, you’re introduced to a bunch characters quite suddenly and you’re supposed to care about what happens to them for some reason. And, since they had to cover a lot of plot points, it comes off as rushed. I followed the story just fine because I’m familiar with the anime and manga but I doubt newbies to Fullmetal Alchemist would be able to follow the plot easily.
This version of Fullmetal Alchemist is an oddity when it comes to Japanese live-action adaptations of an anime, as in it’s pretty bad. I can’t really recommend this for either fans of the series or someone who’s curious about the entire hype behind Fullmetal Alchemist. Instead of opening the Gate of Truth and opening everyone’s mind to a beautiful experience, this spawned one ugly homunculus of a film.
Have you seen the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist film? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!