The anticipation of Fullmetal Alchemist fans was finally satisfied when the Japanese live-action film was released on Netflix. As a fan of both Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I decided to check it out – but I was afraid it would be just as disappointing as the Death Note live action film that came out last year. Surprisingly, I’m glad I took the time to watch it.
The film started off quite cheesily. Special effects of crumbling buildings and transmutations reminded me of the mediocre effects in Sharknado. You could tell the producers, Oxybot Inc. and Square Enix, were trying very hard to make explosions and building damage seem realistic but didn’t quite hit a high enough mark. In fact, Alphonse, the little brother of the main character Edward, was entirely CG (for those who don’t know, Alphonse is basically a walking suit of armor) and there were points where it was easy to tell; especially at times when his helmet would fall off or something would hit him.
To be honest, for the entire first half of the film, I contemplated giving up watching. Once the childhood friend of Edward and Alphonse, Winry, came onto screen, I really wanted to call it quits. The actress tried too hard to make Winry seem flirty and giggly rather than the clever and kind girl portrayed in the animated series and manga.
I would argue that the film’s most prominent flaw is lack of context. It’s a well-known fact that condensing a long anime series into one movie is difficult, and the film left out important plot points that are crucial to the viewer’s understanding of each character’s motives. The plot seemed to lean more towards that of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood than the original series – but some of the characters were left out, probably for the sake of the two-hour time limit.
I’m glad I decided not to give up. After a subpar first half, the film’s second half took a twist that really surprised me. The special effects didn’t improve, but the tone grew more intense and dramatic, making things more believable. The acting improved as well, so it’s possible the actors simply had an easier time performing dramatic scenes than the earlier, light-hearted scenes used to establish new characters. One heartbreaking scene nearly drew tears to my eyes because of how well it evoked a similar scene in the anime.
Despite its flaws, the live action film ultimately captured the spirit of the Fullmetal Alchemist series. While the effects were lacking, most characters thrilled me when I got to see them on screen. While I would encourage curious Fullmetal Alchemist fans to watch it, I wouldn’t suggest it until the viewer has seen at least Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, if not both of the anime series, to establish a better understanding of the plot.