Ghost in the Shell
By: Alex Elias
I never thought I, of all people, would be the one to say this, but some anime should remain just that – anime. You may not know me, but trust me when I tell you that statement is ironic coming from me. “Heroes” was one of my favorite TV shows for its parallelism to being a live-action anime. Likewise, Pacific Rim is my favorite movie of all time. But the thing with both examples is that they are originals and 2017’s Ghost in The Shell is a carbon copy remake of an anime movie from 1995. What may have been a phenomenally original concept back in 1995 now felt … stagnant, like all the twists they through at us we’ve grown to expect over the years. And so, if you can’t do something better than the original, perhaps it’s best not to do it at all. Sort of like Battleship. Better left as a board game, no?
Ghost in the Shell prefaces us with an opening crawl about a future where mankind has become accustomed to improving itself through cybernetic parts. However, in Japan in the far future, a woman code named Major (Scarlett Johansen) is the first of her kind; a fully human brain introduced into a synthetic body. Major was created by the Hanka Corporation and as such, her body belongs to them. Hanka’s CEO Mr. Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) sees Major as both the future of humanity and a weapon so loans her out to the Department of Defense’s Section 9 where Major’s real story begins. Major has been working for a year as an infiltration specialist and is given the lead on a mission to investigate reports of someone hacking into and observing one of Hanka’s lead scientists. Without giving anything away, the hacker turns out to be far more than just an observer and Major and her allies find themselves on the trail of a dangerous and mysterious individual called Kuze. Kuze is intent on taking down Hanka corporation and anyone who supports their cause. Eventually, lines become blurred, and Major begins to question the truth behind her creation. Is she fighting for the right team?
Ghost in The Shell is built on thought-provoking, philosophical questions about man and machine, dressed up as cyberpunk action movie. While I can’t speak to the anime, having only seen the original movie once as a kid I can say that the film really failed to deliver. What the anime intended to do was to make you think, the live action film; however, instead only dazzles with CGI and sexy bodysuits. What was originally such a deep and original story gets lost in the mixture by a lack of narrative and overindulgent and flashy CGI that does more to distract than to wow.
Prior to the film’s release there was some controversy over “whitwashing” and casting Major (who is Japanese in the anime) as a white woman. The movie actually addresses this, explaining that her brain belonged to a Japanese woman and she was hosted into a synthetic body designed by an American scientist. We even get to meet her Japanese mother. I’m not sure if this will put out the fire of the whitewashing claims or only add fuel to it. Regardless – Scarlett Johanson’s performance as the lead left a little to be desired. While it’s understandable that the character she was portraying was synthetic, her emotions ranged from blank, to sad, to slightly surprised and back to blank. I feel this was more a fault of the writing team than Scarlett herself. I get the impression that neither anime, nor film Major is supposed to be a particularly extroverted character, but her development in the movie seemed thoroughly lacking and stiff and she was meant to carry the film. She didn’t.
The action and fight scenes in the film were few and far between, and frankly (coming from someone who loves a great action movie) forgettable. You’ve got your typical slow-motion sequences, some basic duck and cover shootin’ tootin’ and an occasional cloaked stealth suit battle, which we’d already seen in the trailer. That being said, Ghost in The Shell was never marketed to be an “action movie,” but more of a “Sci-fi movie” that contains action. So, by that logic, it was acceptable but not impressive.
My chief complaint about the film was perhaps the lack of narrative and weak character development. In addition to Major, her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) who is a major (no pun intended) character in the film, had pretty much no personality or internal struggles. He was kind of just … there. The villain, the mysterious hacker Kuze (Michael Pitt), was rather wishy-washy in his intentions and far less intimidating in person than he was before they introduced him. As the movie goes along and the lines become blurred, a new villain emerges who is rather cliché.
One character I rather liked however was Major’s boss, the head of Section 9, Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). He had sort of a badass old Samurai vibe too him and gave us quite a few surprises. It reminded me of character’s I’d seen in some great classic Asian police dramas.
I mentioned earlier that the CGI was distracting and overly flashy. Another thing this served to do was to make the plethora of cityscape shots feel phony, like I wasn’t watching a movie so much as a music video.
Overall, while Ghost in the Shell was not given the full Michael Bay treatment, I feel like it would have significantly benefitted from a less is more approach and a more coherent and memorable script. I would give it 68% out of 100%. Not a bad movie, but not particularly good either. Don’t go in expecting another Lucy.
Disclaimer: If you hated Lucy, I recommend reading another review of Ghost in The Shell before making a decision whether to see it; because I LOVE Lucy!