Sunday 23 December 2018

Fullmetal Alchemist (2018) - Movie Review for something with a bit more personal investment to it than the last review. Fullmetal Alchemist, in no uncertain terms, is one of the best anime series ever. Its characters, its incredibly dark and complex themes about life and death, its airtight pacing and yet incredible variety; it is a true-blue classic. It has had film iterations before, primarily the two connected to the two FMA series (the original and Brotherhood, which actually went in quite different directions due to their different connections to the manga), but this is the first attempt at a live-action adaptation. However, this is a wholly different beast to what we got with Bleach, for both good and bad reasons.

For a start, rather than just adapting a single storyline to fill out its narrative, this film tries to adapt the entire plot. For those playing the home game, that means we’re getting several volumes of the original manga, numerous episodes of the show (since this takes from the Brotherhood continuity) into a film that goes just over two hours. To its credit, it does manage to hit a lot of the major, noteworthy beats from the series, to the initial encounter with the false miracle worker to the hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone to the introduction of the Homunculi based on the Seven Deadly Sins.

However, because it’s all been condensed to fit the timeline, the impact of each moment feels sapped. It still hits where it needs to, but there’s a definite vibe that it isn’t hitting as hard as it should.
To give a specific (yet as non-spoilery as possible) example, this film adapts the chimera subplot. Those who have seen the source material know what I’m talking about, but for the uninitiated, I’ll just say that that subplot has gone down in history as one of the most depressing moments in the entirety of Japanese animation. Now, again, it is handled well here, but the reduced interaction with the characters involved means that what should be bone-chilling dread just comes across as mere melancholy.

That is basically the pattern for a lot of this: Because of the reduced time spent with the characters, there isn’t as much immediate investment in them, meaning that what happens to them isn’t as engaging. The acting and costume design for the characters are all pretty spot-on, but this is just a side effect of the deterioration going from a long-form series to a much shorter singular feature.

Which kind of sucks because what makes Fullmetal Alchemist is so damn good at its core, the philosophical approach to body horror, is very much intact. I can complain about the lessened running time and its resulting effects all day, but even that isn’t enough to make these themes fail to resonate. The existential ennui of Alphonse being a child trapped in a suit of armour, Edward’s quest to restore him to his human form, the painful revelations about how far people are willing to go to control life and death; the details are still iffy, but the emotional drive behind them still works.

The poignancy, even in something this ultimately rushed, still rings through. Don’t know whether that says more about the source material than it does the attempts to adapt it here, but for what it’s worth, this is a decent sit. Of course, the first anime series is also on Netflix, so going from amazing to decent when said amazing version is just as readily available, that simply isn’t good enough.

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