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Based on the popular anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist is a 2017 live-action adaptation from Japan following Alchemist brothers Elric and Alphonse as they encounter a range of powerful enemies and search for the Philosopher's Stone. The film was recently released on Netflix.

We first meet the two brothers as children when an alchemy experiment aiming to bring their dead mother back to life goes wrong. Cut to years later and we learn that Alphonse's body somehow vanished after the botched experiment and he now inhabits a knight's empty armour indefinitely, hence the nickname "Fullmetal Alchemist". Unless Elric, who has himself lost limbs, can somehow recover the Philosopher's Stone, he might not be able to ever summon his brother's body back. A big action sequence early on depicts the brothers fighting against a man whom, they believe, is using the Stone nefariously and the scene boasts some big CGI effects, something the film fails to match before its busy third act. That said, this is admittedly a good-looking movie with some colourful visuals and a perfect Alphonse. The anime series had a lot of charm, not only because of the brothers' bittersweet relationship but because it was epic yet had a cosy feel at times, it had good sense of humour, a lot of fun side characters and it felt rather original as a story. This live-action adaptation tries hard to capture some of that at least but it falls short on every account. For one thing the cast is altogether bland and the characters around the Elric and Alphonse are basically just decorative.

One of the things that live-action feature films based on anime seem to struggle with is tone. The slapstick style of humour and melodramatic story elements present in a lot of anime doesn't really translate well to a live-action film. Usually the solution is to either go serious throughout (Casshern) or go silly throughout (Yatterman) but Fullmetal Alchemist wants it both ways. We yo-yo from boring expositional conversations in rooms to overdramatic and soulless "emotional" scenes, kid-friendly jokey moments and ambitious blockbuster action sequences in a way that doesn't gel at all because we never really get to know these characters, the humour is simply not funny and the action scenes are too few and far between. Perhaps taking a page out of the (mostly) tonally consistent and action-packed Pirates Of The Caribbean movies would have been wise. There are brief moments when the film captures something key to the anime such as the chimera subplot and a couple of twists near the end but, for the most part, this feels rather bare plot-wise, which is disappointing considering how much of the source material the filmmakers had to work with.

There are decent anime-to-live-action movie adaptations out there but Fullmetal Alchemist, sadly, isn't one of them. A sequel could potentially improve on a lot of what doesn't work here but it's unclear whether that will happen considering how dull and forgettable this first effort is.

Watch the anime.

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