Another year, another mediocre Netflix live action anime adaption
This review will have SPOILERS. If you've never seen or read Fullmetal Alchemist, then stop reading this and go change that (but not with this movie!!), otherwise let's begin.
If that intro didn't tip you off, this movie... isn't that good. Part of the reason is that I don't think Fullmetal Alchemist lends itself very well to a theatrical movie adaptation, since it is an extremely long story with few, if any, clearly delineated story arcs. Consequently, to make a movie version, you need to cut out and shrink down a lot of the content, and then either leave it open-ended or create your own resolution to give the movie a proper ending point. On top of that, the adaptation isn't very good. The movie goes to great lengths to preserve as much from the source material as it can, but that actually ends up working against it, and it can't seem to decide whether it's for existing fans or newcomers. I think the movie wanted to give existing fans all the iconic scenes from the anime they love, while introducing enough new content to keep them interested, and still being accessible to people unfamiliar with the source. As a result, it spreads itself too thin and fails on all the accounts.
The movie tries very hard to maintain as much as it can from the original anime, but a live-action film is incredibly different from a comic, and so what works in the latter does not always translate well into the former. The costumes are perfect recreations of the original characters, but designs that can pass in anime look ridiculous in real life. Case in point: Envy. (Also, Winry's hair is brown, not blonde. There's nothing wrong with not adopting every single detail, but it sticks out since it's basically the only detail that wasn't preserved.) It's very impressive costuming, but it adds a layer of wackiness to the atmosphere that FMA shouldn't have.
We go from iconic scene to iconic scene of the series, and the movie does as little as possible to link them together. And yet to cohesively join them so that new fans aren't lost, this still requires scene upon scene of exposition. So Fullmetal Alchemist does its best to ensure everyone can follow, at the expense of turning much of the movie into a slog.
And I don't think it even does that great a job explaining the relevant concepts and events for the uninitiated. For instance, Ed and Al's backstory is presented in a confusing dream sequence (with teen, rather than kid, Edward). When Al explains the concept of equivalent exchange at the beginning, he explains he can't replace a broken cart because he needs an equivalent amount of material to make a new cart... even though the broken cart provides exactly the right amount of material for a working cart. In fact, that was the entire point of the analogous scene in the original, where Al transmuted a broken radio to a working one.
In order to add excitement for existing fans and create a resolution, Fullmetal Alchemist also creates some modifications and new segments, but they contain none of the charm of the original material.
The Big Bad's plan is [movie spoilers; rot-13] gb hfr Cuvybfbcure'f Fgbarf gb perngr na nezl bs uhznabvq perngherf gb bireguebj gur zvyvgnel naq gnxrbire gur pbhagel... Sbe fbzr ernfba ur arrqf Fubh Ghpxre sbe guvf, rira gubhtu nyy gur Ovt Onq nccneragyl arrqf gb qb vf syvc n fjvgpu. Naq Fubh Ghpxre oevatf Ny naq Jvael sbe ab ernfba bgure guna gb aneengviryl unir gurz cerfrag ng gur pyvznk. Gura qrfcvgr gur uhznabvq perngherf orvat qrfvtarq gb gnxr bire gur pbhagel, gur zvyvgnel vf noyr gb rnfvyl qrfgebl gur ragver fjnez va n fvatyr avtug jvgubhg n fvatyr pnfhnygl. It's a mess. This is the biggest and most obvious change, but none of the other original elements are much better.
What you get in the end is all the iconic scenes from the first segment of Fullmetal Alchemist performed in high-quality, accurate but ridiculous cosplay, joined together by long bouts of exposition and peppered with nonsensical changes.
I know I've been pretty down on this movie (have I said a single positive thing?), but... it's still kind of special. Fullmetal Alchemist itself is an amazing story, and I think getting to witness the glory of your favorite anime in real life is something every anime fan craves—and live-action movies are the closest we're ever going to get to that. Despite all its flaws, this movie still fulfills the second-deepest desire of my inner FMA fan (the deepest desire, obviously, is erasing Chapter 15 from existence), and so for that (and for being so-bad-it's-good), I can't bring myself to actually dislike the film.
If you've seen or read Fullmetal Alchemist, grab a bowl of popcorn along with some friend(s) who are also fans, and spend a few hours cracking jokes while also re-experiencing moments from one of the greatest manga ever. The movie isn't very good, but that doesn't mean you can't distill a ton of enjoyment from it.