I approached this Netflix streaming movie with trepidation. Recently this network funded a live-action adaptation of the classic manga/anime Death Note that drew the ire of fans, myself included. I sincerely hoped this wouldn’t be another proverbial train wreck. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t.
The Fullmetal Alchemist movie (see my review of the anime) was directed by Fumihiko Sori and shot in Italy and Japan using Japanese actors. This is probably why it was truer to the spirit of the original. I would have preferred an international cast because the fictional country of Amestris is a diverse place. In the anime, most of the main characters like Edward Elric don’t look at all Asian, though some do. The movie did, however, make some casting choices that were dead on with the anime depictions, such as Colonel Roy Mustang (Dean Fujioka) and the homunculus Lust (Yatsuko Matsuyuki.)
On to the more important issues, starting with the script. It’s always a challenge to adapt any series to a 2-hour movie, especially one with 60+ episodes. Again, a pleasant surprise: the story was pretty faithful to the anime, drawing from the first 20 episodes or so. As a consequence, however, it sometimes seems jumpy and chaotic at times. I have no idea if someone unfamiliar with the anime or the manga would find it comprehensible. The movie does, however, go through the major plot points. It recounts the Elric brothers’ tragic backstory and goes into their careers as State Alchemists. The setting of the anime is similar to some fictional European country around the 1920’s, and the movie captures that pretty well also.
Ryosuke Yamada does a reasonably good job as Edward Elric. His brother Alphonse, whose soul is trapped in an empty suit of armor, is CGI of course, voiced by Atomu Mitsuishi. In the anime, they bicker as brothers often do, but I only remember one time when they have a physical fight. Of course, that scene’s in the movie, and is rather exaggerated, which detracts from the fraternal dedication they have for each other. Tsubasa plays their childhood friend, love interest, and mechanic Winry Rockbell. She doesn’t match the anime character so well, at times becoming hysterical when the Winry we know and love would have lost her temper and started beating up on people.
Regarding the villains, the stars of the show are the homunculi, alchemically created artificial humans who personify the Seven Deadly Sins. Some of these beings, such as Lust, look quite human. Others such as Gluttony (Shinji Uchiyama) are monstrous and have to be digitally remade by CGI. Although Gluttony and his scarier manifestations are faithful to the story, they seem a bit excessive in a live action show.
The Fullmetal Alchemist movie is reasonably faithful to the source material, which is one of my favorite works of steampunk-ish fantasy. Sadly, there was no way a single movie could have done justice to this outstanding series. The worst problem was that they tried to do too much. If it had been my choice, I would have restricted the story to the first twelve episodes (roughly the first season) and followed it up with sequels. I definitely enjoyed this movie though I wouldn’t place it among my favorites. The best thing I can say is that it isn’t a complete farce like Netflix’ live-action Deathnote. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.