Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review
Glitches and Schmoes
In the future, human brains are capable of being injected into artificial bodies, which essentially allows the soul of an individual to be placed into a robot. In addition to this, humans are able to receive cyber enhancements and upgrade certain parts of their body to become more connected to the constantly evolving technology of the future. This is all thanks to an organization known as Hanka Robotics. A cyborg commander known as The Major (Scarlett Johansson) leads a task force known as Section 9 to neutralize the likes of criminals, terrorists, and hackers. Their current target is Kuze (Michael Pitt), a cyberterrorist who has particular interest in Hanka’s artificial intelligence technology and is connected in a way that may help reveal The Major’s fuzzy past.
Ghost in the Shell is based on the manga by Masamune Shirow and more importantly its anime adaptation directed by Mamoru Oshii. Scarlett Johansson’s casting as The Major gained loads of heated controversy since Hollywood was once again accused of white washing a Japanese role. The live action film is directed by Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, which explains why the visuals are so richly engrossing. The sci-fi action film would have suffered regardless of who was cast in the main role since its inner mechanics are so unbelievably lifeless that a robot would find itself doing its taxes in binary just to make the film’s 106-minute duration feel less like a visually appealing yet undeniably drawn out colonoscopy.
The film invests everything into its visuals. Like Rupert Sanders’ previous film, Ghost in the Shell is beautiful in every frame. Colors are rich and vibrant and futuristic technology is brought to life with gorgeous computer animation that actually seems to enhance the visual aesthetic of the film rather than just feeling like a shortcut to the finish line. What’s interesting is that some of the special effects, like the mechanical opening of the Geisha’s heads, were done with practical effects and weren’t CGI. While the film brings the futuristic city found within the anime and manga to life with intricate detail involving skyscraper-sized holograms, harsh fluorescent lighting, and tall buildings crammed so close together that the entire city feels crammed, you can’t help but be reminded of films like Blade Runner and The Fifth Element.
Androids seem to give the actors an excuse to act as little as possible. Michael Pitt does what he can with the role, but he’s generally pretty great in whatever he’s a part of. Juliette Binoche also attempts to bring some depth to her guilty scientist role, but her role is only slightly larger than it was in the 2014 Godzilla reboot. Daniel Henshall (credited only as Skinny Man), the guy who keeps rambling about his daughter, and Kaori Momoi are the most impressive as far as performances go. Henshall does so much with how little screen time he has and Momoi has the most emotion of any actor in the film even if her English is difficult to understand at times.
This is also one of the instances where a PG-13 rating seems like a cop out when the source material is obviously rated R. Major ran around invisible and naked with her breasts and genitalia flapping in the wind as she dismantled her targets. Blood was fairly prominent in the anime, which the live action film is quick to write off since androids have no need for blood. The soundtrack is a bit of an issue as well since anime fans will be quick to recognize tracks from Kenji Kawai’s original 1995 film score, but they’re either only slightly reworked versions of the songs or put in as is. The rest of the music, despite having the great Clint Mansell involved, is mostly forgettable.
The live action adaptation is able to boast about a generally fantastic cast. Johansson seems to be channeling similar traits that she tapped into while filming Lucy, which isn’t anything new but it gets the job done. Pilou Asbæk, known best for Game of Thrones and he collaborated with Johansson in Lucy, is a solid Batou. Legendary Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano portrays Major’s boss Chief Daisuke Aramaki. Even though Kitano turned 70 this year, he’s still able to deliver impressive action sequences. The character is also given the coolest line of the film: “Don’t send a rabbit to kill a fox.”
But the storyline seems to combine elements from different Ghost in the Shell films and or anime television series to make the whole experience feel as generic as possible. Major’s medication seems like it’s lifted directly from Equilibrium while countless science fiction movies tackle the subject of memory injections and absolute control. The live action film makes it a point to include all of the big sequences from the original anime film and those different elements mentioned earlier only slightly derail the live action film compared to the anime. So three writers being needed to complete the screenplay seems like overkill. If your film is 80-85% similar to what it’s remaking or rebooting, then why the need for so many writers?
The whole Major being renamed to Mira Killian concept is minor. She’s only referred to as Mira a handful of times and it’s so slight you probably won’t even notice unless you’re familiar with Masamune Shirow’s original works. The film presents the idea in a way that makes sense, but it’s a little detour that will likely divide devout anime fans and generic movie lovers.
Rupert Sanders' version of Ghost in the Shell is not a total bastardization of the source material, but it doesn’t do Masamune Shirow justice either. The film is glorious eye candy, but it is otherwise almost entirely a shot for shot live action remake of the anime. If you can get past Scarlett Johansson walking around like a robotic swivel chair, it might be a good distraction to pass the time on a rainy day if you’re not paying attention or the sound is muted. However, the stale acting and sluggish storyline weigh the film down like a bionic sloth using dial-up to take a defensive driving course.