Movie Review: FullMetal Alchemist (2017)

Courtesy: Netflix

Starring: Ryosuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Kanata Hongo, Jun Kunimura, Kenjiro Ishimaru, Shinji Uchiyama, Ryuta Sato and Yasuko Matsuyuki with Atomu Mizuishi and Yo Oizumi
Directed by: Fumihiko Sori (Based on the graphic novel series by Hiromu Arakawa)
Distributor: Available on Netflix (Original Japanese theatrical release in December 1, 2017)
Rated: TV-14
My Rating: ***/5


In late 2017, a live-action adaptation of the “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime and manga was released in Japanese theaters. Now, Netflix has released the film with English subtitles in the US. The film is simply known as “FullMetal Alchemist,” which was previously given an anime in 2003, as well as a more straightforward anime adaptation with “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” While the film is no masterpiece, it is a live-action adaptation that represents a slight step forward over other maligned live-action remakes of series such as “Ghost in the Shell” and “Death Note.”

The film takes a route that has some liberties with the original story; but is overall faithful to the tone of both the anime series and the original manga by Hiromu Arakawa. Arakawa also co-wrote the script alongside Takeshi Miyamoto and director Fumihiko Sori. The result is a film that is not without its flaws, but manages to make a competent diversion for 134 minutes.

The story follows the Elric brothers, named Edward (Ryosuke Yamada) and Alphonse (voice of Atomu Mizuishi), on their search for an artifact known as the Philosopher’s Stone, which can help restore themselves to normal after a botched attempt to use alchemy to resurrect their late mother as children. Ed lost his right arm and left leg, and Al lost his body; only surviving by having his soul pinned to a suit of armor. The film’s story is a pragmatic, but effective, take on the source material that contains many key moments from the original story with some twists that may surprise fans.

Although many critics derided the film’s costume design as glorified cosplay, the film sports an overall unique visual style that faithfully replicates Arakawa’s artwork with an all-Japanese main cast. The period set designs and fight choreography are well-constructed, and despite a modest budget compared to typical adaptations of American comic books; the film has some impressive visual effects for the alchemy displays. The transmutations of the homunculi are every bit as disturbing as in the source material, and Alphonse’s armor is portrayed in a similar fashion to Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While most shots of Al use CGI, a practical suit of armor was built for scale and close-up shots.

Still, the film’s execution proves that adapting anime and manga in live-action isn’t totally perfect just yet. This film is definitely easier to enjoy with some familiarity with the source material; so it’s recommended that you check out the manga or anime adaptations before watching this film (especially with the latter also being on Netflix). Even so, the film is full of slick action and stunning special effects; and a story that leaves the door open for more installments even though it works fine on its own.

Overall, this live-action adaptation of “FullMetal Alchemist” is a film that proves to be a decent, but not spectacular, attempt at remaking a beloved anime and manga series in live-action. It may not be an abysmal film like the infamous “Dragonball Evolution,” but it will still take some time before filmmakers work out an “equivalent exchange” that can turn great source material in one medium (such as a live-action remake of the classic “Battle Angel Alita”) into gold in another one.