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One Movie Punch

Feb 27, 2018

Today’s movie is “Fullmetal Alchemist” (2017), the live-action adaptation of the classic manga from Hiromu Arakawa, directed for the screen by Fumihiko Sori. The film distills the major events from all 27 volumes of the manga and crams them into two hours, from the origin story of alchemist brothers Edward Elric (Ryôsuke Yamada) and Alphonse Elric (Atom Mizuishi) to the ultimate reveal of the origins of the Philosopher’s Stone.

I’m not sure what to think about the latest batch of live-action adaptations of long-running manga and anime properties. These particular storytelling media, like any media, have a built-in structure with strengths and weaknesses, and a specific relationship with their audience. Characters can develop and worlds can unfold slower, allowing for longer story arcs with complex themes, and the episodic nature brings its own cadence. This translates rather well from manga to anime, but it doesn’t translate well to feature-length films.

“Fullmetal Alchemist”, as a film, has way too much story. We don’t get time to develop any relationship to the characters, or to appreciate any of the relationships between the characters. We are just launched into a river of plot, moving the story forward at breakneck speed, swerving between anger and humor and love, and making the slower, more emotional scenes feel hollow. Viewers who lack any prior knowledge of the source material will get lost very quickly, and may question some of the iconography given the lack of world development.

This film doesn’t get everything wrong, though. The special effects were great in practice, even if some scenes tried too hard to replicate the more iconic frames. I thought the cast was good, only feeling overly melodramatic because of the pacing. The art direction was great, although there are a few cheesy bits, especially Gluttony (Shinji Uchiyama) and the final creature design. And it definitely tells the story, even if it feels more like a supercut of a much longer work.

“Fullmetal Alchemist” (2017) is just too much of the property packed into a mere two hours, creating issues with pacing and tone. Despite that structural flaw, the cast is decent, and the costumes and effects are fun to watch. Fans of the manga or anime may be disappointed by the presentation, but will hopefully appreciate the art design and effects. And if not, you can always check out the manga and the anime.

Rotten Tomatoes: 38%

Metacritic: NR

One Movie Punch: 5.8/10

“Fullmetal Alchemist” (2017) is not rated and is currently streaming on Netflix.