It’s always a tough gig spinning off a movie from a loved TV series. Sure your production values are up and those action sequences suddenly get the necessary frames to make them look really sweet. But there’s a trade-off. Immediately you have lost the episodic slow burn of the series that built to a carefully crafted conclusion. The cast you have developed over 50 odd episodes must be prioritized with some members allowed to wave in a ‘where are they now’ shot before returning to the main action.
So with new renovations you have to be very careful. Cowboy Bebop got around the problem by making what was essentially an extra-long chapter that delved into Spike’s hinted-at past. The movie slotted in neatly between episodes 22 and 23, complementing the existing structure and leaving the series’ ending intact.
Neon Genesis Evangelion on the other hand spawned two post-series refurbishments. With the curious intent of opaquely sumamrising, then reimagining the ending, these sequels came across as the work of a demented abstract post-structuralist who had gotten his hands on some chipboard, marble and pipe cleaners. The result was an architectural nightmare — actually kind of fitting for Evangelion in a lot of ways.
The Full Metal Alchemist series ended on a high — a revelatory finale that was equal parts, the series’ key tenet: equivalent exchange, sacrifice and an open-ended conclusion filled with uncertainty but hope. Conveniently, the open-ended nature makes for a perfect jumping off point for a movie sequel. Full Metal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shambala opens pretty much straight after the end of the series. The film centers around Edward, now living in a pre-WWII Weimar Republic, and a restored Alphonse back home sans memory.
It’s nice to see the darker FMA themes reflected in the movie. There is the perceived betrayal of the Treaty of Versailles that manifests itself as a hatred directed toward Jews and Gypsies and inexorable rise of Nazism that casts an ominous foreboding over the film. Various tropes from Edward’s home world appear in our world and add a sense of unease as to whether they are they good or evil. Even the overarching plot which brings the two worlds into conflict is elegantly realised.
Full Metal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shambala ultimately does the best it can with its 120 minute slot. The action sequences, much like the series, are fantastic. The production values are first rate and the movie builds to a suitably epic climax. Sure a few characters get a little short shrift but that’s to be expected.
But as much as it is a pleasure to revisit old friends there is a slight niggling that, sure the additions are nice and craftsmanship is first rate, but somehow they are, maybe, a little unnecessary — that 120 minutes and a showy Hollywood, blockbuster finale is an extension that will never match the seamless architecture of the original.