Ghost In The Shell Review
A Film Review of (the live action) Ghost in the Shell
Live-action adaptations of animated feature film classics are trending and they all seem to attract their fair share of controversy. Unlike the recent Beauty and the Beast, the Ghost in the Shell adaptation had a somewhat negatively charged pre-release anticipation what with all the internet memes calling the film out for the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the main character Major Motoko Kusanagi. In light of recent public criticism of Hollywood “white-washing” in its film productions, the casting of Ms. Johansson appeared to have affirmed those concerns. There’s no question that she is attractive, popular and experienced enough in these kinds of special effect driven blockbusters to headline as the strong, female lead, but the opportunities for women of Asian descent to land these kinds of roles are extremely rare in Hollywood Land and this seems like a missed opportunity. What’s worse is that a quick glance at the cast list reveals very few Asian faces in total as merely three have speaking roles of any relevance in this film. The Ghost in the Shell animated feature from 1995 was one of two Japan-imations to catch hot fire in western culture, and it is an absolute shame more Asian actors couldn’t round out the cast a bit more even if Asians couldn’t be represented by the lead.
This situation is something the 2017 adaptation is completely conscious of and makes active attempts to evade controversy with some creative writing and elegant plot devices. First, there is no direct reference in this film as to where exactly this is all taking place. There’s a multitude of exquisitely composed digital wide shots revealing a technology infused city of the future that has an unmistakable Asian aesthetic to it, yet the people that populate it and all the English being spoken on the streets makes this film’s setting inconclusive. Then there’s the Major herself who is renamed “Mira Killian” and is referenced by most other characters as strictly “Major.” As the story progresses (a significant departure from the original, might I say) the script deploys an interesting twist to the origin of “Major” in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone: 1) do something neat for the narrative and 2) specifically address “white-washing” criticism. At first, this twist comes off as a brilliant maneuver to convert weakness into strength, but if you were to give this particular development 5 more seconds of thought, you wouldn’t be crazy if you instantly thought, “Wait a minute! Did they just do something even more racist?”
Potential racism aside, this film happens to be a stunning visual array of digital imagery and effects that rivals the likes of Avatar. Boxofficemojo.com lists this film as having a healthy budget of $110 million dollars, but I call shenanigans on that as this film looks to have cost double that. Everything that fills every single frame looks that damn good! Costumes, sets, action; all of it bursts through a vibrant color palate with such precision and grandeur that you’re left wondering when all the rest of the Avengers are going to show up. I’m kidding, of course, but I could not get over how entertaining this film was, how well it acknowledged it’s source material and how immersive it was to see this film in IMAX 3D. If you have the means, I highly suggest checking this film out in the same fashion. It is so choice. I am a tad shocked to see this film underperforming in its opening weekend which may have something to do with what I mentioned in the introduction of this review, but probably more to do with its rather anemic advertising campaign in the mainstream.
Outstanding Gun-fu! While not on The Matrix’s level of intensity and volume, this film is up to the task of delivering inspiring action, intimate gunplay and amazing acrobatic feats.
Thumbs way, way up to cinematographer Jess Hall who clearly studied the animated original and used that as a basis for framework compositions that capture this dystopian future flawlessly.
Scarlett Johansson continues to add to her legacy as a gorgeous specimen of a human being who can kick as much ass as any man ever could on the big screen. Now if she could only reconnect with the dramatic instincts she showed off in Lost in Translation, she could vastly improve on the awkwardness of her stillness in this film.
Solid all around as Pilou Asbaek renders a perfect real life depiction of Major’s partner Batou and Takeshi Kitano (Japanese gangster film legend) treats us all to what it means to be the boss with direct words and a stoic demeanor. Peter Ferdinando’s Cutter is a tad dull as yet another evil, corporate tool doing what evil, corporate tools always do in fiction and in real life.
The visuals in this film simply cannot work without an equally optimal emotional score to match the tone and fill the moment. Bonus point for an awesome nod to the fans when the final credits roll.
See above, but the absolute highlights have to be the sound of active camouflage being engaged and Major’s digital hallucinations pixelating in and out of her field of vision.
“Moving” = 28/33
Crisp, clean, seamlessly integrated with live action. The manner in which it is captured allows the audience to actually appreciate it all. Tech warriors of the future wished they looked this good. Sorry Johnny Mnemonic.
Guns, explosions and acrobatics are effective, but are mundane when compared to the constant visual effect wizardry.
The Major’s endoskeleton highlights the allure of feminine curves without actual parts, thus making her whole composition sexually void. All other cast feature concepts drawn from Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. Not bad inspirations.
Hair & Makeup
Major’s mop top was too plain. Batou’s white locks stand out and Aramaki’s wig was laughable. Improvement needed here.
Wow. Not sure what locations they actually scouted and how many they built on soundstages, but they really found perfect recreations of iconic scenes from the original animation.
Purposely minimized to accentuate the immensity of the exterior environment. Still, even minimalism of the future would contain enough technology to project something more unique than this.
“Picture” = 24/33
Robocop, sort of. The merging of the human and robotic, maintaining one’s humanity and individuality while searching for the soul. Yeah, so exactly Robocop.
Someone is going to war with the corporate task masters behind the monetization of the robo-human revolution. The police have to protect and serve, but do they have the ability to do so effectively when we don’t really know who they really answer to? Hmm, this is standard fare for cyberpunk.
A much happier ending than the original animation and I will leave final judgment regarding the twist to Major’s true identity as a push on paper, but between just you and me; no bueno.
Everyone sounds fairly natural with the exception of Major for obvious reasons, but still manages decent chemistry with Batou for their personal exchanges. Very average for everyone else.
Using Major’s digital hallucinations as a plot device to setup a gradual reveal of the truth behind her past is effective. Title sequence does an adequate job at getting the audience to understand the basics of this futuristic world.
Character is not a particularly strong element in this film as everyone not named Major plays remixes of cops and corporate suits you seen in almost every movie ever. Major Mira Killian may be a badass taking down criminals, but she doesn’t have half as many interesting things to say as Motoko Kusanagi.
Major is the token everyman outsider. Batou is the tough guy with a heart of gold, but only evil, corporate tools can relate to evil corporate tools.
“Story” = 19/34
Overall MPS Rating: 71/100
The live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is a film that barely touches upon the existential and metaphysical questions posed in the animated feature regarding the definition of life, the existence of the soul and if artificial intelligence could be a part of the conversation. As such, this is a different story that focuses on spectacle and action which allows this production a wide enough birth to simply entertain while thinking about the implications of fusing man with machine on the side. I believe this film is guilty of “white-washing” because an equally experienced and attractive Asian actress would have played Ms. Johansson’s part just as well yielding a similar enough final product. The film’s producers were quick to justify their selection as requiring a major (ahem) actor or actress attached to the production to get it financed in the first place with more calculated hopes of making significant profit off that investment. $59 million in opening weekend global ticket returns for your film is nice, but only $19 of it came from the good old US of A. Scarlett wasn’t cast to sway the European markets. Without an aggressive ad campaign to make Americans aware of this film, there’s no evidence to suggest this trend will reverse and avoid being cycled out of theatres all together in a couple of weeks. I suppose the accountants were wrong once again. Are you listening studio executives?