Don't believe anything you hear about this film. Oh, it's a failure. It's boring and it doesn't work. However the CGI is fine, the location filming is pretty and the actors are better than I'd expected. The problem is the script, which takes a sensible approach and then makes a pig's ear of the execution.
The original Fullmetal Alchemist is a 27-book manga epic. (It's also fantastic.) It's about war crimes, national guilt, vengeance, artificial people and cool magic powers based on the medieval science of alchemy. It's had two anime TV series adaptations, adding up to 123 episodes, plus two anime movies. This film, on the other hand, runs for two hours and a bit. What? You're kidding, right? How? Answer: sensibly, they don't even try. Instead of trying to be faithful and inevitably failing, they just nick bits and ideas to make a similar story that hits some of the same beats. Seems fair enough to me. That's what I'd have done too.
Of course this means almost all your favourites will be gone. This includes Scar, Major Armstrong, Granny Pinako, Van Hohenheim, Izumi, Sig Curtis, the Slicer Brothers, Barry the Chopper, Solf J. Kimblee, Sheska, anyone from Ishbal or Xing and more than half of the Homunculi. The scriptwriters have also made a couple of eccentric decisions in who to promote in their stead... but hey. No problem. They're making it their own thing. I approve.
Similarly, I agree in principle with the decision to build the story about Edward and Alphonse. I don't want empty action scenes. I want emotional weight, ideally built around the two main characters and their quest to regain their real bodies. (Ed's lost an arm and a leg, whereas Al's a soul in a 100% full-body prosthesis that's also a suit of armour.) That's what the story should be about! Unfortunately the film's being too timid to sell it. They put the action on hold for an hour and try to give lots of screen time to Al and Ed, which is laudable, but all they do with that is retell some random episodes from the manga. That's not selling the brothers' relationship. It just comes across as bits and pieces. They needed to rewrite more boldly. The Al-Ed fight, for instance, crashes and burns because the film hasn't set it up properly and we don't really buy it.
That first half also has an urgency problem. There's no Scar and no other immediate threat to replace him. Lust, Envy and Gluttony are lurking in the background, but our heroes don't know about them. There's thus nothing pushing forward the narrative. That first half potters. It's dull.
The second half finds stuff to do. It's better. I quite enjoyed it. However the film loses it at the end on returning to Al and Ed for a moral dilemma, because they'd never been the dramatic cornerstone of the film. They should have been, but the film goofed. It failed to happen. (Part of that, I think, is that we make no connection with the two brats in the film's opening, playing the brothers when they were children and making a horrifying mistake. They can't act, their dyed blonde hair looks scary and we don't associate them with adult Al and Ed later.)
Apart from that, the film's trying to look and sound like a glossy, expensive Hollywood movie. (This means overblown Hollywood-style music, but hey.) I can respect the effort. They did location filming in Italy, which looks pretty. Steam trains! Stone houses! The all-CGI Alphonse looks spot on, even if personally I'd have had the filmmakers build a suit and put him on-screen more often.
My only problem with the film's look was with some of the casting choices. Ryosuke Yamada does a perfectly serviceable job as Ed (although they've toned down his temper), but he can't pull off the look. Pretty boy, red coat, hideous fake blonde hair... he looks like a cosplayer. At least he's better than the girls, though, who look so wrong that it's distracting. (I'm excluding Yasuko Matsuyuki, who looks perfect as Lust.) Riza Hawkeye and Maria Ross are meant to be tough-as-nails soldiers. They look like models. Tsubasa Honda is less of a misfit as Winry, but I didn't buy her either.
Their actual performances are fine, though. The worst of them is Honda as Winry and she proves herself capable of projecting strong emotion. It's just that her grinning introduction makes her look feeble-minded and she's not great in the following scenes either. On the other hand, though, Ryuta Sato is charming and perfect as Hughes, Jun Kunimura briefly adds a bit of class and the ensemble's basically okay.
One mild eye-roller for me, though, was that everyone who gets killed manages to get out some last words anyway.
At heart, the film's a stiff. I'd been expecting something more flamboyantly, entertainingly bad. What I hadn't expected was boredom. That said, though, is this better than something like the live-action Attack on Titan films? Obviously, yes. I see them as pisstakes. Thinking about what they could have been (and what their original director had wanted) is enough to make you slightly angry. This, on the other hand, isn't actually wrong-headed. It failed, but in an understandable way. It doesn't even approach the original's weight (no war crimes, no genocide, no sympathetic terrorists), but that would have made it a very different film.
That said, though, it's not even a pimple on Hiromu Arakawa's backside. You'll go away reeling if you expect anything even half as good as the worst thing previously made under the name Fullmetal Alchemist.