When it comes to live-action versions of anime, manga, and comics, their structure is like packing a suitcase. You don’t want to overpack and weigh down the movie with too much source material. But you also don’t want to pack light and forget important things. When it comes to Full Metal Alchemist, Writer Hiromu Arakawa struggles to find a perfect balance within the movie’s 2-hour frame.
The plot follows Edward (Ryôsuke Yamada) and Alphonse Elrich (Atom Mizuishi). Two alchemists on a mission to obtain a philosopher’s stone after a failed attempt to revive their mother with alchemy. An attempt that cost Edward two of his limbs, and Al his body. His spirit now trapped in a suit of armor.
By obtaining the stone, the boys hope to reclaim that which they’ve lost. Meanwhile, a dark and sinister plan begins to take shape. While the first 40-minutes is filled with great exposition and captures some comedic elements the anime is known for, the writing in the later acts is all over the place. For those who are not familiar with the anime, Full Metal Alchemist is a property that challenges the worldviews of both its characters and viewers.
Every episode of the anime takes a look at topics like science, religion, government, and ethics. Using them as ways to build substance and relationships within and between characters. As well as making certain revelations feel earned. Unfortunately, this adaptation does not.
By not doing so, a lot of the characters including Ed and Al feel both extremely watered down and underdeveloped. Causing revelations made in the movie and major reveals feel unearned and less impactful. Not to mention certain scenes are vastly different, are out of order, and feel disjointed. Especially when it comes to the climax.
Without spoiling anything imagine Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone but the final battle in Deathly Hallows is at the end. It felt like Arakawa (who is also the creator of the property) wrote the script and midway through was told there is a low-percentage chance of a sequel happening. Causing Full Metal Alchemist to have the structure of a standalone movie with an ending that hopes for a sequel.
Supporting characters like Mustang (Dean Fujioka), Winrey (Tsubasa Honda), and Maes Hughes (Ryûta Satô) have little to no purpose. Mustang is a badass in the anime. In the movie, he comes off as just a bossy high-ranking member of the military. Winrey is just there to freak out over Ed’s busted auto-mail despite her anime arc containing so much great conflict. Which ties into the fact there are many key players missing from this movie.
Including Fuhrer King Bradley (the leader of the country Amestris), Scar, and other villains. Most notably the other four homunculi. Pride, Sloth, Greed, and Wrath. The other three Lust (Yasuko Matsuyuki), Envy (Kanata Hongô), and Gluttony (Shinji Uchiyama) are ok but don’t feel threatening, and their history is never discussed. Again this goes back to how the movie ends.
Plot devices like the Isvalan Civil War are mentioned but never brought up again which is a huge problem. Simply because it is a major element in the story that affects a lot of people and has major ties to the story’s climax. To make matters worse, the special effects are horrible when used in dimly lit, dark, and shadowed settings. But not everything is bad.
The costumes are great, and the acting isn’t all that bad though sometimes it feels like the actors forget they’re in a live-action movie and not an animated adaptation. Causing some lines and scenes to feel a bit goofy. Again the movie’s biggest problem is its pacing and structure. Which could have been fixed had a few sequels been greenlit.
Had that happened I believe the writing and the characters would have been more fleshed out. Is it as bad as Deathnote? Absolutely not! But if you’re looking to dive into the world of Full Metal Alchemist, you’re better off just watching all five seasons of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Netflix.
Not only does its five seasons provide a unique and fleshed out story with many shocking twists, it is also more faithful to the manga.