Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) Review

Live-action fullmetal alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist (2017)
Director: Fumihiko Sori
Screenwriters: Fumihiko Sori, Takeshi Miyamoto
Starring: Ryôsuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Ryûta Satô, Misako Renbutsu, Yô Ôizumi

Nothing gives me The Fear quite like the announcement of an anime live-action adaptation. So when it was publicised that ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ was the latest victim in line for the guillotine, I was understandably apprehensive. My excitement at the opportunity of seeing my absolute favourite anime brought to life was immediately eclipsed by the residual disappointment that the memory of Death Note had left me with. And oh man, was my fear not misplaced in the slightest.

Whilst Death Note’s incredible nose-dive of a failure was, amongst other things, down to white-washing and a catastrophic misunderstanding of the source material by a room full of producers who probably pronounce ‘meme’ like ‘MEE-MEE’, Fullmetal’s failure was different. In contrast, Fullmetal was a lethal combination of poor CGI, dodgy dubs, and a clumsy plot with some real choice acting. So let’s get stuck in.

Edward and Alphonse Elric are two young alchemists who one day decide to break the biggest rule of alchemy by trying to perform human transmutation in order to bring back their dead mother. Y’know… the usual cheery anime stuff. But of course, because it’s anime, they fail. Edward loses an arm and a leg [don’t!] in the process, and Al loses his entire body. Ed binds his brother’s soul to a suit of armour and embarks on an (understandably) obsessive quest to find a Philosopher’s Stone and get their bodies back.

After finishing the film, I immediately headed over to Reddit to see what other people thought of the adaptation. Weirdly, a lot of fans of the anime were praising the live-action adaption for it’s ‘fun’ narrative and success in explaining the world to a new audience. I shall allow the comments that the adaptation certainly made it easy for a viewer unfamiliar with the manga and anime to get into, but I’m afraid the structure of the plot is something I cannot forgive.

I know the lore and plot of ‘Fullmetal’ like the back of my damn hand, and during the film I got so bored and distracted that sometimes I’d look up from my phone and wouldn’t really know what was going on. Even so, I couldn’t be bothered to rewind, which is evidence that I couldn’t care less about missing things, and that it was tedious enough to get distracted from. Again, this is my favourite anime of all time. The fact that it didn’t grip my full attention is a crying shame.

The voice talent and dubbing is… an issue. It serves to mention that the acting cast of Fullmetal were all Japanese, and I would have been more than happy to watch a subbed version of the film (it probably would have forced me to hold my attention more). The moment Ed had his first line of dialogue, my little ears pricked and I admit that I gave a squeak of excitement as I immediately noted the distinguishable Vic Mignogna who has been Edward’s English dub since the anime’s launch in 2002. However, Mignogna’s audio throughout the film was nothing short of a Biblical disaster, sounding like it had been recorded through some tin cans and a piece of string. To say it was distracting would be an understatement.

But not as distracting as the awful wig that Ed’s Japanese actor Ryôsuke Yamada was forced to endure throughout the very long 175 minutes of run time. The monstrosity on top of his head was an insult and I don’t think I’m in the right state to talk about it yet, other than to say it rang of ‘baby’s first cosplay’. It broke the immersion so much for me because I just couldn’t stop thinking about how bloody awful it was. The blonde layers didn’t even match. But I digress…

I was actually very impressed with Al and his CGI. Where the rest of the CGI falls flat and gimmicky in the rest of the film, it’s clear the majority of the time and budget went on bringing Al to life. The suit was done really well and his fighting scenes were fluid and pretty brilliant to watch. His voice actor was the original Aaron Dismuke [!!!] and it fit so perfectly, ringing nostalgic of the 2002 anime. Al and his suit were mesmerising and it was just such a tragedy that alongside him, Mignogna’s audio was so off-putting and Ed’s entire characterisation was a knock off.

In the same vein of characterisation, it feels apt to mention how minor all of the other characters felt in the adaptation. Whilst there wasn’t room for the levels of backstory and embellishment that 52 episodes of anime gives to an audience, I still felt like the portrayal of the key characters was weak and lazy, and it caused them to fade into the background. Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye were done truly dirty and I’m still so mad about it. Similarly, Winry was reduced to nothing more than an over the top screeching addition to the screen. This is such a shame as her character is so much more than that. But it was a true joy to have Caitlen Glass return as her English dub.

Of course, characters had to be left out. That is inevitable and understandable. But maybe it’s because I have a bizarre crush on the Elric brothers’ father [shhhh] that I was genuinely devastated that Hohenheim wasn’t included in the film. Instead, General Hakuro (Halcrow) was clumsily combined with King Bradley to create the manipulative antagonist which left me feeling cheated.

Further to this, whilst the Homunculi were done brilliantly, they only had Lust, Greed and Envy, with no reference to the other ‘Sins’ at all. Lust mentions their creator at one point, but nothing more is said of this again. I definitely think there was a way to have pulled this arc off by stripping it down to the basics whilst still keeping it coherent and complimentary to the narrative. It just didn’t make sense to have only three ‘Sins’ with no real explanation of why they were named after the sins or why there were only three of them.

The good points were few and far between, sporadically wedged between repetitive actions and dialogue, and tedious scenes of intense eye contact. Despite this, the arc of Shou Tucker and the chimera was exceptionally executed. Without going into it too much, the narrative is deeply unsettling in both animes, but it is truly heart-breaking when brought to life on screen with a disturbing CGI chimera, especially when the acting in this scene was surprisingly good.

In more praise, the portrayal of Truth was also very pleasing, and the scenes with Ed at the Gates were complimentary of the original material without feeling like a cheap recreation. Maes Hughes was also flawless. The actor, the dub and the entire image was spot on. 10/10. I also enjoyed the European-esque backdrops of Amestris (some of the principle photography taking place in Italy), and indeed, the backdrops of the scenes and other settings were quite stunning.

Director Fumihiko Sori stated he wanted to remain faithful to the manga, and that much was achieved. ‘Fullmetal’ is loved for both it’s light and comical humour, as much as it’s deeper and darker side. But the film fails to capture the gritty themes of the manga and anime, and the comic relief consistently overshadows and throws off the darker issues. What could have been a simplified yet powerful adaptation was instead reduced to a gimmicky and frequently juvenile film. Scenes which should have resonated with deep emotion, instead rung as hollow as Al’s suit of armour.

When will they learn that 27 volumes and 52 episodes of complicated and interweaving plots, arcs and characters, cannot be comfortably condensed into 2 hours of run time?

9/24

[There’s a sequel in the works so gird your loins for that. I’ll start mentally preparing myself for it now.]

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