A suitable beginning for new fans but a let-down for old ones
Fullmetal Alchemist follows the story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who take part in the ultimate taboo of alchemy by trying to bring their late mother back to life. The act costs them dearly as Alphonse loses his body and Edward loses an arm and a leg, but Ed manages to bind Al’s soul to a metal suit of armour. The film follows the boys as they go on a journey to find the philosopher’s stone and get their bodies back. But they soon get enmeshed in a bigger conspiracy involving military secrets and mysterious inhuman villains.
The movie is the first part in a trilogy that adapts the 64-episode anime, but more on that in a bit.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a decent enough gateway for new fans — it introduces them to the world of alchemy and a multitude of important characters. For the novice, this film is a good introduction, if a slightly sloppy one.
While the overall arc of the story is engaging, a few scenes feel random and some transitions forced. The creators bring in several characters without offering much background on them. Riza Hawkeye, an important part of the series, isn’t even named in the movie. Even the rules of alchemy aren’t explained very well, leaving the viewer to make assumptions.
What works well though is the world building. With the help of some exquisite sets and detailed costumes, the film really draws you into the world of Amestris. The quality of visual effects does waver though. It is highly impressive in the case of Roy Mustang’s fire alchemy and Al’s character, who is entirely constructed through CGI. They add to the film’s element of fantasy. But in other cases, the effects don’t blend with the rest of the film and look a little fake.
The actors make good work out of an average script, with Ryosuke Yamada and Atomu Mizuishi doing excellent work as the two brothers. Their dynamic is endearing and their affection for each other is moving, despite the latter being present only in voice. Their work makes the emotionally heavy scenes hit the mark. However, Tsubasa Honda’s portrayal of Winry is overdone while Dean Fujioka’s depiction of Mustang could have used a wider range of expressions.
All in all, the film serves as a suitable introduction for new fans. It’s a fun watch, with an intriguing world and a story interesting enough to make them watch the sequel too. But the fact remains, that as an adaptation of an anime series, the movie falls short.
Adapting an anime is a huge task and of course, sacrifices have to be made. But while the makers have chosen the right events to include, their focus on the plot has completely side-tracked the emotional element of the story.
So much of what makes Fullmetal Alchemist a beloved story is its focus on emotional and moral themes. The series delves into the concept of family, loss, redemption, and duty, among a lot of other poignant subjects. By fixating on the plot, the live-action movie has lost out on this thoughtfulness. And because we get such limited time to get to know the characters, the power of the more sentimental scenes is diminished. However, with two more movies to come, it’s possible that this will be rectified.
On the flip side, there are moments when the film is clearly trying to imitate the anime. A lot of the character’s mannerisms are loud and exaggerated, particularly Ed’s. But while this worked within an animated context, it feels out of place in the live-action.
The problem is that the anime series was just too good. For old fans who know just how incredible the story can be, this version falls short by a lot. Having watched the seamless transition of events, the slow building of tension, the complexity of each character given its due — the movie just can’t hold its own against that.
Could the movie ever perfectly concise everything? No, and it’s an impossible expectation. Could it have done a better, smoother job of storytelling anyway? Absolutely.
Fullmetal Alchemist serves as a nostalgic reminder for old fans and as a brand new entry into a fascinating world for new ones. Either way, it makes you want to delve deeper into the story. And whether that means waiting for the sequel or watching (or rewatching) the show or reading the manga, I count that as a win.
Verdict - 6.5/10