Ghost in the Shell, 2017.
Directed by Rupert Sanders.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt, Peter Ferdinando, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Anamaria Marinca, and Chin Han.
In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.
Ghost in the Shell is a live-action Anime. Right about now you might be saying “No shit, Sherlock, it’s based on a revered Japanese Manga and popular 1995 Anime movie” and other such relevant information, but what I mean by my lede is that this is the first film that actually looks and feels like a successful transition from Japanese artistry to American Hollywood film. Everything from the visuals, to the appearances of individual characters, to the cyberpunk fantasy setting, all the way to the admittedly sometimes cheesy dialogue that still works just because it’s badass sci-fi Anime, is superbly adapted to create a film that for all of its faults along the way, definitely has the possibility of sparking an increased interest in similar fare.
What’s that you say? The movie is automatically terrible because of whitewashing that casts Scarlett Johansson in a role meant for a Japanese woman? Truthfully, I don’t care, because Ghost in the Shell is at its core an action-packed and decently stimulating romp exploring a world taken over by cybernetic enhancements. Major (Scarlett Johansson) also has her backstory dealt with in a manner that addresses the controversy in a respectful fashion, so much so that it actually adds another layer to the themes interlocked with all of the tantalizing futuristic technology.
Moving on from the controversy (something more critics should do, focusing on critiquing the actual content of the movie, good or bad things to say), Scarlett works playing Major for the unorthodox reason that, no offense, she isn’t the best actress at emoting drama. This means that she is able to portray Major accurately to the source material as someone detached from humanity, uncertain of her purpose as a terrorist fighting machine with no memory of her past. There is a deadpan delivery to her lines as she goes through the motions of her job; the first of her kind. Of course, as a mystery related to those responsible for creating her along with her foggy past come to light, Major goes through various self-realizations about the intentions for her as a scientific weapon, and to the credit of Scarlett Johansson, she actually does a good job transitioning that emotionless mentality into angst, revenge, and finding peace within herself. Essentially, there is a compelling primary character arc at the center of Ghost in the Shell .
Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) injects Ghost in the Shell with vivid colors and freakishly large holographic imagery plastered all over towering buildings, heightening the hypnotic cyberpunk aesthetic. It’s seriously impressive how every nook and cranny of the city is filled with futuristic detail (whether it be flashing signals along a city street, graphics signaling that a taxicab is occupied, and more), along with how much personality is given to all of the different visible body enhancements. There’s plenty of life in Ghost in the Shell, rendering it one of the more dazzling special effects showcases to gander at, even accounting for some subpar CGI. Powerful graphics aren’t necessarily everything, so long as what’s being looked at is fascinating to the eyes and creative. This is all elevated by a thumping electronic score from the GOAT film composer Clint Mansell, putting in some of his best work in recent memory
With that said, the one major pitfall Ghost in the Shell does fall into is doubling down a bit too much on eye candy, disappointingly forgetting to elaborate on a number of its moral and ethical plot points regarding humanity and technology. This is a world where someone can enhance their body to be able to consume more alcohol on a daily basis, but the most significant characters in the film all feel broadly drawn with generic and unoriginal motives. The entire plot of the movie can be predicted within the first 15 minutes, but at the same time, some leeway should be given considering that the original story was conceived decades ago and is still considered landmark science fiction material. It’s just that a reboot utilizing the same story could have sacrificed one of its many action sequences for the sake of expanding its narrative.
On the other hand, don’t mistake that as a knock on the action throughout the film, which features everything from invisible cloaks to guns to Major beating the shit out of some perverted creeps with the aid of a stripper pole. “This isn’t what I was built for”, Major confesses before she lays the aforementioned smackdown, and one can’t help but feel it’s beautifully realized social commentary on the modern state of women not just in Hollywood, but in general. They can be ass kicking machines just as awesome as men. It also helps that the fight choreography is excellent, knowing when to utilize slow-motion and how to capture every bone-crunching melee attack.
As far as combat goes, the only real head-scratcher is the silly looking unitard skin-suit. Tactically, it is meant to give her greater ease when camouflaging into the environment, while mentally Major originally, to my knowledge, went about her business nude as a further expression of her distance from humankind. The suit is just an awkward visual, and probably should have been scrapped for something else since obviously Hollywood doesn’t want to fund an expensive R-rated action movie, which would have been the rating if Scarlett Johansson (who has done nudity before) was busting heads butt-naked. Still, it’s a minor gripe and doesn’t take away much from the excitement of the spectacle.
Rationalizing the ratio of action to story, it does make sense, as Ghost in the Shell is definitely fighting the uphill battle to break Japanese Anime into mainstream Hollywood cinema. Director Rupert Sanders may have done just that, delivering a thought-provoking, action-packed, and accessible Anime inspired science fiction quest of self-discovery. If Anime continues to catch on as Hollywood blockbuster tentpoles, we can point to Ghost in the Shell for paving the road.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★