Film Review: Ghost In the Shell (2017)

Release Date: March 16th, 2017 (Shinjuku premiere)
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
Based on: Ghost In The Shell by Masamune Shirow
Music by: Clint Mansell, Lorne Balfe
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Michael Wincott

Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Amblin Pictures, Arad Productions, 106 Minutes

Review:

Almost every single review I have seen of this film bitches about the whitewashing of its characters. To the point where the movie isn’t even discussed, it is just attacked by social justice warriors disguised as movie critics looking for anything to latch onto and rant about for 600-to-1000 words.

In all honesty, I don’t give a shit. American remakes of foreign films are typically full of famous Hollywood Americans. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the The Deaprted not featuring Chinese actors and it went on to win a bunch of Academy Awards and was the Picture of the Year.

When comparing The Deaprted to Ghost In The Shell, the context of each is different. The Departed was set in Boston, as opposed to Hong Kong like its source material Infernal AffairsGhost In The Shell is set primarily in Japan but I don’t recall the character of Major ever being specifically given a racial identity apart from a Japanese surname, as she is a brain set inside of a shell (or a cybernetic body). Besides, and a bit of a spoiler alert, she is shown to have been Japanese before her brain was put in the shell that looks like Scarlett Johansson. Although, in the film, her surname is changed to Killian from Kusanagi in the source material.

But I’m here to talk about the movie and not get fixated on the sociopolitical rhetoric it seems to be drumming up. Besides, at the end of the day, Hollywood has always been racist.

In regards to the content of Ghost In The Shell, the film actually turned out to be better than I anticipated. I thought that there was a lot more that could go wrong with this picture and that it was a risky move for something that didn’t really need to be made. I still don’t think that it needs to exist, as it isn’t great, but I did enjoy the 106 minute investment I made. Granted, I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

First of all, the visuals are gorgeous and they did a fine job recreating the world of the manga and film in a live action format. The color palate was alluring, the cinematography and especially the lighting were superb and the costumes and sets were perfect.

Unfortunately, the visuals are the biggest positive of the film.

Scarlett Johansson was very dry and emotionless. I get that the part calls for that but she felt distant in the worst way possible and it was hard to connect to her. The only time you really feel anything, is when she discovers her mother and they meet for the first time.

Pilou Asbaek and Takeshi Kitano were both fabulous, though. Asbaek really became Batou and Kitano was a stellar choice to play Chief Daisuke Aramaki. Both men brought gravitas to their roles.

Michael Pitt was pretty good as well. His body movement and voice felt authentic, even if there were effects added in post production. Even though he is a cyborg like Major, his performance was much more human than Johansson’s.

Juliette Binoche was solid as Dr. Ouélet. She had a gentleness to her and even though you knew she was into some bad stuff, she was able to convey that she was a good person underneath and not once did I think she would turn her back on Major. She serves the story well and was a pivotal part in the film despite not having a lot of screen time.

The plot seemed to borrow from various parts of the overall Ghost In The Shell mythos. It has been awhile since I’ve seen the original anime and television series. I’ve also never read the manga. The gist of the story is there but it just isn’t that exciting and you never feel emotionally invested in it. The problem could be in that the film feels like a summary of events and not its own fleshed out tale. I’m not really sure where it could go, if there were a sequel in the future. I also feel that a sequel is as unnecessary as this film was, which did nothing to justify its existence.

Again, the ambiance of the picture was stunning eye candy but it isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before and presented in a better way. Ultimately, it looks like an update of the visual style from 1982’s Blade Runner but we have an official sequel of that on the way later this year.

I’m not wholly against anime movies being made into live action blockbusters but they need to be treated with care and done in a way that can justify their existence. I’ve never been a fan of the idea of Akira becoming a movie with real actors. Ghost In The Shell just strengthens my argument against it.

While I am huge on the visual aspects of the films I watch, that element alone isn’t enough to make a great picture. Ghost In The Shell had enjoyable moments, where I thought it wouldn’t deliver in any way, but ultimately, it is a shell without the ghost. If anything, the visual razzle dazzle is there to distract from the lack of everything else this needed to work.

 

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