Now on Netflix, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar is the second of three live-action films adapting Hiromu Arakawa’s 80 million-selling manga series about Edward Alric, the youngest State Alchemist in the history of the country of Amestris, who once, along with his brother Alphonse, tried to resurrect their mother from the dead, resulting in Edward losing an arm and a leg which he replaced with metal prosthetics, and Alphonse ends up with his soul bonded to a suit of armor. If any of this makes sense to you, then hooray, you’re part of this franchise’s widespread international fanbase, and you’re fired up for the movie. If not, and it all sounds like hither-and-yon balderdash higgledy-squat, the movie isn’t going to offer you easy entry into the wild steampunk historical-fiction Fullmetal Alchemist world.
The Gist: A cloaked figure stares down a handlebar-mustached Alchemist, one of the warrior-magician types who work for the government. Cloak guy performs a small miracle: He draws down his hood without mussing his exquisitely moussed hair. A massive X-shaped scar cuts between his eyes, from forehead to cheekbone, so he must be the guy in the part of the movie title after the colon. Our villain tosses the mustache guy off a bridge, his latest serial slaying of a State Alchemist.
But there’s only one Fullmetal Alchemist, and that’s Edward (Ryosuke Yamada), who, along with robot-like brother Alphonse (voice of Atom Mizuishi), runs to catch a train. They’re barely on board and palling around with a prince named Lin Yao (Keisuke Watanabe) before a ruckus breaks out, involving some heavily armed thugs, some ninja types and, eventually, a shapeshifter named Envy (Kanata Hongo), and even though an entire train car blows up, the train never stops zooming along the track, adhering to the Law of Unstoppable Momentum in movies, which also applies to vehicles, most frequently semi trucks, that never stop no matter how many fist- and gunfights may be occurring on top of them.
Anyway. This is all the result of complicated stuff – politics, past wars, cultural differences, etc. If you’re not up to speed on it all by now, you probably never will be. But Scar (Mackenyu Arata) is an agent of chaos bent on revenge, a morally fraught figure twisted into his current form after surviving a horrific genocidal war. How morally fraught? He’s killing people for stuff their ancestors committed, going so far as to slaughter the doctors who saved his life. He has bad dreams about this stuff. As he should.
Characters come in and out of the story to either participate in violent melees or have histrionic emotional outbursts. One notable guy is Mustang (Dean Fujioka), a Flame Alchemist who, much to our bemusement, apparently isn’t self-aware enough to realize that his shit don’t spark in the rain. There are origins and flashbacks, warring factions and a man-creature named Gluttony (Shinji Uchiyama) whose chest opens into a giant multifanged monster-mouth that swallows his enemies whole. The mouth also emits massive pink energy blasts. Edward and Alphonse frequently face off with Scar, a very tough cookie who mangles the parts of them that are thankfully replaceable. Violence and high drama occur, often involving severe appendages. So many severe appendages. It’s quite the visual motif.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The chintzy-looking green-screen CGI (it’s an aesthetic, I guess) and nonstop action interspersed with boring parts made me think of Prince of Persia, which is not Jake Gyllenhaal’s finest moment, but that’s OK. There’s also frequent talk of “the Philosopher’s Stone,” which is very Harry Potter.
Performance Worth Watching: Playing Edward’s longtime friend Wintry Rockbell, Tsubasa Honda really lets rip during one of the aforementioned histrionic emotional outbursts. Her character enjoys a legitimate arc that doesn’t require watching one of the other two live-action full metal films to understand.
Memorable Dialog: Scar utters this doozy that I coincidentally have embroidered on a pillow on the davenport in the den: “I am that pus known as hatred, born from the civil war. And like pus, even God cannot save me from rotting.”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: I see no reason why full metal aficionados wouldn’t see The Revenge of Scar as a decently hearty two-hour steak-and-potatoes feast – they’re no doubt used to anime-style tonal and visual conventions, which range from hyperbolic to insanely hyperbolic to nuclear-explosively hyperbolic. The movie doesn’t typically stray beyond the insanity level; it’s violent, sure, but no more so than your average Marvel hubbub.
Although Edward is the guy in the title before the colon and therefore the protagonist here, this is very much Scar’s story; long stretches of the movie go by without Edward, as the narrative crams in as much lore as it can, presumably to cover large swaths of material from the manga series. So any hope of just kicking back, not worrying too much about plot intricacies and enjoying the wild sci-fi martial-arts action isn’t quite feasible – the movie’s many confrontations and battles never live up to the impressive first-act train sequence, which is large in scale and feels significantly more physically consequential. The rest are frequently interrupted so Talking Villains and other miscellaneous and sundry characters can pose and make declarative statements about how impressive their powers are, or belabor the entire endeavor with numbing speeches. Numbing speeches that surely carry weight among the converted, who will find enough traction here to hang with the cliffhanger and to-be-continued-dot-dot-dot title card at the end, and roll on through to movie no. 3.
Our Call: After all that, The Revenge of Scar is fine. Totally just fine. STREAM IT, but with the caveat that familiarity with the various ins, outs and whaddaya-dos of the franchise is necessary to truly comprehend it.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
Stream Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar on Netflix