Film and drama

Screen Themes: The Meg vs Fullmetal Alchemist

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There are good movies and there are bad movies. If you enjoy the latter, entertainment editor John Turnbull has a treat for you…

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub (2018)

There are many things about The Meg that don’t make a lot of sense. First among these is how a movie about a giant shark can miss out on so many of the fun possibilities that the concept suggests, particularly the glaring error of omitting the obligatory shark vs helicopter face off. But let’s take a step back…

A co-production between Warner Brothers and China-based Gravity Productions, The Meg stars Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis and Ruby Rose, telling the story of rescue diver Jonas Taylor’s encounter with the titular prehistoric beast. I only mention the co-production thing because around 30 per cent of the Meg plays like an extended ad for Tourism China, with frequent sweeping shots of beautiful coastlines and grand historical vistas. The effect is slightly spoiled by a scene set at the most crowded beach in the world, so packed with humanity that it makes Bondi look deserted.

In terms of performances, The Meg is up there with Statham “classics” like Crank and Parker — in other words, pretty bloody awful. He is matched in awfulness by Bingbing Li and Rainn Wilson, who has so much character depth his defining characteristic is wearing Nikes. Possibly the only actor who escapes with his dignity intact is NZ journeyman Cliff Curtis, while Ruby Rose adds another “character just like Ruby Rose” to her IMDb page. Fortunately, the script is equally lazy, so nobody has to try too hard.

The best example of the awful script is the speed that everyone adopts the movie name immediately, referring constantly to the growing threat of The Meg. You know what made Jaws great? The fact that nobody, at any point during the movie, pointed at the horizon and screamed “Jaws is coming!”

Fullmetal Alchemist

Directed by Fumihko Sori (2017)

Produced by Netflix, Fullmetal Alchemist is a live action adaptation of the manga series that many consider a classic. The movie is set in an alternate reality where alchemy has been elevated to something between science and religion, but there are strict rules around what alchemists can and can’t do.

The story centres around two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, who try to use their alchemy to bring back their deceased mother from the dead. Of course, this is against the rules and results in Alphonse being sucked into a soul portal sort of thingy. Fortunately for this movie, Edward is able to resurrect his brother in a cool metal shell, but he loses an arm and a leg in the process. Edward then goes on to become the Fullmetal Alchemist, a sort of government-sponsored superhero/scientist, I guess, uncovering a plot to take over the world with a bunch of genetically modified super soldiers. It was all... rather baffling, really.

This isn’t the first Manga to be made into a live action movie, but the filmmakers seldom seem to get it right. From the cultural appropriation of Ghost in the Shell to the unwatchable garbage that was Dragonball: Evolution, you have to go back to 1972’s Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance to find a manga adaptation that most people like.

One of the few things that I did like about this movie was the character design, specifically the robot body that Al inhabits. Oh, did I mention that in the dubbed version that I watched, the characters called each other Ed and Al, like they were backwoods farm children? Well, they do. The other characters that looked great were the Homunculi, who embody three of the seven deadly sins in Lust, Envy and Gluttony.

If the character designs (lifted directly from the manga) are good, then pretty much everything else in Fullmetal Alchemist is terrible. I’d say that Fullmetal Alchemist is worth a partial stream if you’re a fan of the original manga or the rather good anime series, but everyone else can probably skip it.

The Verdict

Usually in this column, I try to pick at least one good movie — however, it seems, this week, I have failed. The Meg is an ocassionally amusing B movie that inexplicably cost $150 million to produce, while Fullmetal Alchemist is yet another adaptation that should have been left in the world of Manga and Anime.

Rather than watch either of these movies, I suggest you go outside and get some fresh air.

Fullmetal Alchemist is currently screening on Netflix and you can still catch The Meg in cinemas (if you’re allergic to fresh air).

The Meg — 3/10

Fullmetal Alchemist — 2/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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