When their mother suddenly passes away, two young brothers attempt and fail to resurrect her using the power of alchemy. Now left horrifically disfigured and scarred, the two begin their search for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone in the hope of obtaining the power they need to make things right…in Fullmetal Alchemist.
Directed by Fumihiko Sori, Fullmetal Alchemist is the live-action adaptation of the massively popular comic and animated series from Japan. And fans of the series are likely to be fairly impressed with the level of accuracy in the various locations, costumes, and flashy magical powers. The movie contains a number of nearly 1:1 visual replications, which is incredibly rare for any live-action adaptation.
That said, there’s a very good reason why such strict visual recreations are often avoided when adapting any cartoon or comicbook. Because what works in animation or on the printed page typically doesn’t work well in real life.
For one, the costumes–while accurate in their appearance–look nothing like real clothes. Instead, every bit of clothing in the movie looks like high-end versions of the sorts of costumes you’d see at your local comic book convention. Like the sets, they’re far too clean and artificial looking. There’s no stains, no wear and tear. Nothing looks like people use or live in it. Nearly every actor in this movie is sporting a laughably bad wig or bad dye job.
Worse still is how none of the actors manage a half-way decent performance. Now, it is true the actors manage to properly replicate the tone and mannerisms of their animated counterparts. But such things come across as wooden or clownish when done by a real actor on a real set. Nobody in this movie walks, talks, looks, or acts like a real person.
And as a result, Fullmetal Alchemist comes across less like a movie and more like some high-budget stage performance. One that, much like the costumes, would be more at home at a comic convention. And at least a fan production could be forgiven for any lack of professional cinematic flair or talent.
TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL
Of course, none of this even begins to touch upon the lazy, exposition-heavy dialog that sounds as if it were written by a middle schooler. The movie and its less-than-two dimensional characters are constantly telling us what’s going on, how they’re feeling, and even what’s happening on screen at that very moment.
In fact, there is more time given to characters detailing every aspect of this movie than there is time dedicated to fleshing out the characters themselves, their world, or even the stripped down plot. The comic and TV series were both fairly long. And rather than attempt to kick off a series of films, Fullmetal Alchemist instead tries to cram everything into a single movie. This results in a movie with half-a-dozen plots going at once, no development of any of them, nor even any real attempt to tie them all together. Things just happen. Characters literally pop up and introduce themselves without context or even a purpose.
For example: Tsubasa Honda’s Winry is the childhood best friend of both Ryosuke Yamada’s Edward and Atom Mizuishi’s Alphonse. However, we’re never actually shown this. She suddenly appears in the movie as a young woman despite scenes existing with the two brothers at a younger age in their rural hometown. And when she does show up, it’s without a reason or purpose. In the original manga and TV series, she’s an engineering prodigy who designed and built Edward’s artificial, mechanical limbs. But in this movie, she literally pops up screaming like we’re supposed to know who she is. And then she proceeds to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the movie.
In fact, her only purpose in this movie seems to be acting as a stand-in for the mostly CGI Alphonse, who after losing his physical body as a boy had his soul bonded to a large suit of armor. Any scene where it should be Edward and Alphonse sharing a quiet moment and talking with one another, it’s often instead Edward and Winry. Al’s CGI construct is so incredibly limited in appearance that it might have been better to simply write him off altogether for how little he gets to say or do.
WHAT, ME DIRECT?
And then there’s the issue of Sori’s directing, which consists of some impressively bad shot composition, framing, and pacing. Despite having several feature films under his belt before working on Fullmetal Alchemist, Sori seemingly hasn’t the faintest grasp of even the most basic filmmaking fundamentals. Actors are consistently out of frame. There’s no energy or motion to be found in his shots, even when they’re filled with chaos and fighting. Even if the actors weren’t dressed in cheap costumes, holding plastic proper, or mugging and vamping for the camera, there’d still be no dramatic weight to any shot or moment because of how bad everything is framed and cut together.
And on top of all of this, Sori’s directorial failings are somehow even more impressive once you realize that he had the original comic, two animated TV series, and several animated feature films to refer to while working on his.
How a compelling story with a unique visual flair and style was turned into such a lackluster mess of a film is shocking to say the least. Nothing in this movie was done well or right in any objective way. Fullmetal Alchemist looks bad, is acted bad, and is put together in arguably the worst way possible. There’s no respect present for the source material that was plundered for the sake of this adaptation. There’s no respect for the craft of acting, or filmmaking in general. And there’s certainly no respect for the audience this movie was clearly intended for, let alone a general audience who might accidentally waste their time with it.
The guiding law of alchemy is supposed to be that of “equivalent exchange.” To obtain one thing, something of equal value must be given. Fullmetal Alchemist offers nothing as a cinematic experience. And because of that, it is most definitely not worth offering your time or money to watch.
Fullmetal Alchemist is, without question, a NO CHILL.