I feel obligated to start this review by saying I’m not actually against live-action anime films. In fact, there are a plethora of them that have come out historically and recently that absolutely rock. That said, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar marks the second time that this iconic franchise about brotherhood, scientific ethics, and the traumas of war has been stripped of the things that made it special in a live-action story. In this sequel to the 2017 live-action, Fullmetal Alchemist, a mysterious figure named Scar starts to target State Alchemists for their sins against God – and believe me, the actual punishment for the Ishvalan genocide is light here. Caught up in it all, Alchemist Edward Elric (Ryôsuke Yamada) and his brother Alphonse (Mackenyu) are at their most vulnerable, meanwhile, the Homunculi begin to unveil themselves once again.
The film is directed by Fumihiko Sori with a screenplay written by Sori and Takeshi Miyamoto adapted from Hiromu Arakawa‘s seminal manga. It has a stacked cast, staring Ryôsuke Yamada, Dean Fujioka, Keisuke Watanabe, Keisuke Watanabe, Tsubasa Honda, Atom Mizuishi, Mackenyu, and Seiyô Uchino.
Like the film before it Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar takes a lot of liberties, and unlike the feature film before it, this sequel struggles in balancing the special and practical effects. While I wouldn’t say the first of the Fullmetal Alchemist live-action movies was great, it was fun enough to go along for the ride at least through the first two acts. The Revenge of Scar, however, well it’s a hot mess that misses what makes the Ishvalan storyline in the franchise so important.
The reason that Scar, despite his iconic and towering presence in the manga and anime, is rather weak in the feature film that bears his name, is because of every misstep made in the first live-action film. By trying to map Scar into this new narrative, the sequel film has to do some serious backtracking and even more deviation from important story beats that make Scar who he is which were changed for the previous film. And, when included, remove the weight of them, given how the first film completely fumbled the Ishavalan genocide. Additionally, the film holds back on the scathing critique of racism and fascism that is the core of the source material, instead aiming for something more fantastical and without teeth. Sure, we see a little pressure put on the State Alchemists, but none as faith-shaking as is needed for the core of characters like Mustang.
Now, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar isn’t without some fun, namely where Ed and Al are concerned. The effects that were used to bring Al to life are still some of the best and Ed’s wig is 10 times better than in the first film. And of course, their chemistry is one that actually holds your focus. Additionally, the action sequences between Ed, Al, and pretty much any of their opponents are visually well done. This is extended to Lin’s physical performance in action sequences that at least keep the entire film from becoming stale. Since they are the core that this film’s narrative spins around, sometimes that’s enough to hold your attention.
Additionally, Dean Fujioka returns as Roy Mustang and Misako Renbutsu as Hawkeye. While some moments are off, due to the writing, the dynamic that the two bring, however small, is one of the film’s bright spots. That said, the characters that surround these three are wooden at worst and messily held together at best (except for maybe Winry’s arc of forgiveness). Add in some truly odd choices in casting like aging up May Chang (Monroe Ron) yet keeping her entirely infantilized and this is a rocky ride.
I don’t have it in me to write 1000 words on why you should skip Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar. But what I do have in me is to point out that this film aims for visual accuracy as much as it can, including a ridiculously bulbous bald cap and airbrushed muscles for Armstrong. While faithfulness sometimes works, like with Ed and Al, and even the Homunculi, other times, like when Armstrong is trying to have an emotional confrontation with Mustang, the absolute absurdity of it all makes the story buckle. In fact, the only thing that Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar is focused on being faithful to is aesthetics that it refuses to capture the heart of the series it is adapting.
Fullmetal Alchemist as a franchise is visually stunning, but none of the visual beauty overshadows its message. Here, however, all of the pain that Scar feels, his trauma, and the empathetic connections he makes in the source material are thrown out and replaced with bombastic elements. While there is an attempt to show Scar’s humanity, past, and complexity in the final act, it’s a little too late and too surface level to really drive home the importance of the character within the larger narrative of Fullmetal Alchemist. Additionally, there isn’t enough internal exploration from the state alchemists about the roles they played in the genocide of Ishvala, only small gestures that show they know it was wrong.
That’s where Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar misses the mark completely. A good cast with a great visual style means nothing unless it’s backed up with heart. When you look at the film by itself, detached from the larger narrative of Fullmetal Alchemist or even just what was established in its predecessor, The Revenge of Scar is passable, if only barely. Ed and Al’s connection, as well as the relationship between Mustang and Hawks, are the shining moments in an overstuffed film.
But if you come into it with any expectation of an emotional pay-off based on what you know from the manga or the anime, then you’re going to be beyond disappointed. With a clear setup for the third film, I truly don’t know what will happen next.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar is streaming exclusively on Netflix with the third film releasing on the streaming platform in September.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar
When you look at the film by itself, detached from the larger narrative of Fullmetal Alchemist or even just what was established in its predecessor, The Revenge of Scar is passable, if only barely. Ed and Al’s connection, as well as the relationship between Mustang and Hawks, are the shining moments in an overstuffed film. But if you come into it with any expectation of emotional pay-off based on what you know from the manga or the anime, then you’re going to be beyond disappointed.