Fumihiko Sori, director of the live action adaptation of Ping Pong and the Zatoichi inspired film Ichi, set out to make the live-action version of Fullmetal Alchemist a visual spectacle. Sori utilized technology that is new to Japan in an effort to make Japanese CGI more prominent. Sori wanted his version of FMA to be on par visually with The Avengers. If that’s the case, then Sori succeeded because the visual effects are literally the only redeeming quality of Fullmetal Alchemist.
The original Fullmetal Alchemist anime series is 51 episodes, Brotherhood is 64 episodes and there are two full-length animated films, which are all based on a 27 volume manga. It feels like they tried to cram as many events as possible from all of that into a 2-hour time frame. At the same time though, it’s as if they didn’t know where to leave off since the film leaves off on a very unsatisfying cliffhanger. It’s odd too since writer, artist, and creator of Fullmetal Alchemist Hiromu Arakawa is the only credited writer for the film. Why someone would willingly allow their creation to be rushed and not live up to their full potential is beyond comprehension.
The film changes a lot in comparison to the source material. Describing everything in detail would likely be too lengthy, so check out the Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki for a decent list on what all has been altered in the live action film. The biggest changes involve Scar, Barry the Chopper, Major Armstrong, Izumi Curtis, and King Bradley all being completely absent from the film. All of Barry’s manipulation has been shifted over to Shou Tucker, who hypnotizes Al and holds him hostage during the film’s finale. Ed and Al attempting to bring their mom back from the dead is altered slightly with the two of them being thrown around the room by a The Wizard of Oz kind of cyclone and Ed not losing his arm and leg until he’s older.
Winry has become the bumbling sidekick to the Alphonse brothers. Instead of only showing up when Ed needs his automail repaired, Winry sticks around the entire time to whine, cry, and be as annoying as possible. The humor that worked in the anime series doesn’t translate well to live-action or was somehow completely misinterpreted along the way. Comedy is corny and overbearing here with ridiculous music and line deliveries that feel forced with no natural qualities or charisma. Half the humor in the anime almost always came from Major Armstrong’s masculine appearance and sensitive personality, Al’s obsession with cats, or Ed’s shortness (which is barely mentioned) but all of that was stripped from the story.
It also feels odd to have an all Japanese cast. The film attempts to be making a statement with all of the whitewashing controversies Hollywood has been facing in recent years, but it feels like it could have been beneficial to at least have some American actors in the film. The majority of the costumes look like bad cosplay with bulky wigs, bad actor choices, and clothing that seems like it’s either way too big or way too small. The actors chosen for the film don’t suit the characters at all, especially when the homunculus are concerned. Lust looks like Al headbutted her in the face until irreversible damage occurred, Gluttony is a fat turd with no purpose, and Envy looks like an emo kid in a bad Bob Marley wig. Meanwhile, Colonel Mustang’s hair is too big for his head and Winry is suddenly a brunette, but at least Maes Hughes looks somewhat decent.
The one redeeming factor is the special effects, which are the closest this film ever gets to being great. On the downside though, the special effects aren’t as impressive as you’d think they’d be for a film that decided to focus solely on CGI. The Nina/Alexander chimera sequence (yes, that made it into the film) is not only the film’s most effective scene but also one of the best instances of the visual effects team doing their job right. They did an even better job on Al’s armor since Alphonse looks exactly like he does in the anime. The one downside is he moves awkwardly from time to time and you can’t tell if it’s because he’s in front of a green screen or if he’s partially stop-motion animated or a little bit of both. His purpose in the film seems to be as awkward and clumsy as possible like Colossus in Deadpool. This is entertaining and infuriating at the same time since Al is much more than a clunky suit of armor, but it’s efficiently amusing nevertheless.
Don’t let this be your introduction to an amazing franchise. Brotherhood is quite possibly the best anime series of all time and the series as a whole is a gateway that’s accessible for anime and animation fans for both younger and older audiences. The live-action film fails to properly adapt the story points, character traits, proper emotion, and laugh out loud humor that made the source material so fun, intriguing, and exceptional. Just because the visuals are nice doesn’t mean we can overlook the poor costume design, the strained acting, or the piss poor representation of a beloved anime and manga series. If you’re keeping track, Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t quite as awful as the American Death Note remake (also available on Netflix), but falls short on being as decent as the lackluster Japanese Death Note films. 1.5/5 Weak and Foolish Transmutated Bibles.