Directed by Rupert Sanders
March 16, 2017 (Shinjuku) / March 31, 2017 (United States)
This is a reappraisal/edit of my original review of the live action version of the animated classic Ghost in the Shell. I figured it was worth another look since I am currently reviewing the animated films,
A woman is the first of her kind: a cyber enhanced individual designed to stop terrorists. But all is not as she believes, and she finds herself tracking a mysterious hacker that connects to her past.
If you go in expecting a one-to-one translation of the original 1995 animated feature into live action form you will definitely be disappointed. That is not what we got here. As it is we got close. They take bits and pieces of the original film and some elements of the sequel films and merge them together into a similar story. What we get is a visually stunning film that is not necessarily as deep as the original. They do touch on themes of identity but the other elements that people have felt were present such as liberation from gender or sexuality cannot be found through even significant mental gymnastics.
The biggest issue people seem to have in my perception is the casting of ScarJo. That is certainly my issue but not necessarily because of race. I never personally saw the character of The Major as white (despite the character’s name in the anime). My issue is just that Johansson is very hit or miss in her performances. And here she is a bit of a miss. Not a complete miss but she does not knock it out of the park either. She would not have been my first or second choice. I think they were trying to get the Avengers crowd to show up for this movie by casting her and this is not the same style of film. This is aiming to be more thinking while the Avengers series is more action and blow shit up. Whatever their motive, this just was not the right role for her. She does okay though but I think another actress might have been better. Despite my issues with ScarJo as an actress she does well enough here with the material she’s given. She just needs more inflection when she speaks.
Given that the focus of the controversy was race, it did not help things that the renamed in the movie after the surgery Major Mira Killian turned out to be actually Asian and that aspect of the character used the original character name of Motoko Kusanagi. If this bit was used as some commentary on race or whitewashing it might have gone down easier. As it stands it just was and nothing more.
Of the characters from the animated film that appear here they get the look right. They were easily identifiable to even a casual fan. Chief Daisuke Aramaki (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano), Batou (Pilou Asbæk), and Togusa (Chin Han) are all easily recognized. The character of Togusa was criminally underutilized. Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt) is from later in the Ghost in the Shell animated universe but takes on aspects of the Puppet Master from the first animated film.
“Beat” Takeshi speaks in Japanese the whole time. Supposedly this was because he was upset with aspects of the film. Still took the check though. Pilou Asbæk I think is the one that nailed his character the most. His performance and look is most like what you would find in the anime.
There are many scenes or elements in this film that parallel but do not exactly copy the original. The scene with the garbagemen most closely parallels the original, but they omit the random gunman and it is to assault the project head and not part of a hacker’s plan. While some hacking does occur, this hacker is more of a shooter than he is a Puppet Master.
Visually the film is stunning. It is a detailed and immersive world that is as cyberpunk as anything that has been up on the screen in recent years. The effects used in this movie create a genuinely detailed and immersive environment of the future. They missed nothing here. It is one of the most jarring and realistic cyberpunk environments since Blade Runner. It feels like a genuine world.
While not as sophisticated as the original film, the script is solid. They tread some familiar ground with shadowy corporations and conspiracies focusing on one person, but they get it to work. The world feels realistic and dangerous. The finale is a bit guns blazing but it benefits from the concept of the team supporting one another. The people on the side of The Major are not secretly on another side. They are on the Major’s side and they are willing to take chances for their friend.
The film does not talk down to the audience. It is not brainless, but it is not as intellectual as what inspired it. The philosophical aspects unfortunately did get watered down and that most likely was in an effort to appeal to a broader audience. The anime is much deeper than this movie. That is not to say that this is a shallow film. It is just that the depth is not as great. As I said before it does not talk down to the audience. It treats those that watch it as if they had a brain.
One thread that moves throughout this movie is what makes you who you are? Is it your memories or is it something more? In this way it is a thinking film. And it is something that will stick with you.
Ghost in the Shell is a dark cyber punk film. I feel within a few years once people have calmed down more it will be much better received. I have watched this a few times and I find myself enjoying it each and every time. Perhaps even a little more with each successive viewing. Will this be considered on par with Blade Runner? Unlikely but it will be seen as a good film.
Ghost in the Shell was obviously to be the first in a film series given the ending but given the reception and the box office performance I highly doubt that will come which is unfortunate because I think they did set up a world that could be quite intriguing to revisit. There was definite potential here.
In the end the live action Ghost in the Shell is a good film. It has some good action and a solid script and while it could have used more of it, Ghost in the Shell does manage to touch on some interesting themes. I say watch it!