Review written by Ethan Collins and David Malone
Rated PG-13 (Violence, Suggestive Content, Disturbing Images)
Directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman)
Written by Jamie Moss (X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), William Wheeler (Ray Donovan, Queen of Katwe), Ehren Kruger (The Ring, The Brothers Grimm)
Cinematography by Jess Hall (Hot Fuzz, 30 Minutes or Less)
Music by Clint Mansell (Black Swan, High Rise), Lorne Balfe (Terminator: Genisys, The Lego Batman Movie)
Produced by Avi Arad (X-Men, Iron Man), Steven Paul (The Musketeer, JL Ranch), Michael Costigan (Prometheus, Out of the Furnace)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche
First, why have people been clamoring “white washing” over this live action remake of the anime Ghost in the Shell? In the original, Major is a Caucasian looking woman with blue eyes. Not only that, but Scarlet Johansson was perfectly casted. Her whole team, and the movie in general, is cast not only well but also diversely.
Second, why is this movie getting such hate from the critics? Now, it is by no means perfect, and we will get into that below. But it is an enjoyable sci-fi story with terrific visuals, costumes, etc., and it poses some interesting questions.
Third, despite our two points above, was this remake really necessary? The original anime movie is quite popular, well respected, and highly influential on modern science fiction films, such as The Matrix. It is also a perfect example of what anime can achieve. Even Roger Ebert liked it, and he certainly hated on anime from time to time. You might as well remake in live action, oh, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Um, done… So…
In 2029, the line between humans and artificial intelligence has become unclear. Most people are enhanced by cybernetics, giving them upgrades like improved vision, stronger bodies, and higher intelligence, or even things like artificial livers so they can drink alcohol to their little hearts content.
At this time, Hanka Robotics is the world leader in augmentive tech, and they are the company that takes in Mira Killian, the sole survivor of a cyberterrorist attack. Because Mira is dying, Hanka scientists place her brain, and her “ghost,” in a mechanical body, a “shell.” We know this because everyone says “ghost” and “shell” non-stop.
One year later, Mira is Major, an officer in an anti-terrorist bureau, Section 9. One night, as Major and the team patrol the towering city, a hacker named Kuze makes his presence known in the world by disrupting a Hanka business conference and murdering a Hanka scientist. Major and company thwart Kuze at this turn, but he makes it clear that the world hasn’t heard the last of him, and neither has Major.
Meanwhile, Mira’s unclear memories of her past and odd glitches in her vision begin to bother the good Major, and her questions only increase as she and her teammates further descend the rabbit hole that is Kuze. Who is Mira, really? What is she actually? And where is her place in this world?
Say what you will about Sanders’s last movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, it looked good, and many aspects of it were directed competently. Will we watch it again? Probably not. But it’s not a complete waste of time. In the same vein, Johansson’s last big sci-fi film, Lucy, wasn’t too hot, but Johansson was the best thing in it. Thankfully, Ghost in the Shell is far better than either of those movies.
This movie has a lot of good stuff going for it. Batou (Asbaek), Major’s partner is good, and his presence provides some welcome comedic relief. Major (Johansson) is a serious individual who walks like a robotic man, unpolished in every aspect. Something that jumped out to us was her innocence when naked (not really naked, because this is PG-13, but basically). She has no shame, since she doesn’t comprehend right and wrong like we do. Much like Eve before The Fall, innocent and non-carnal. Johansson portrays this easily, a machine with human elements and a blossoming curiosity amongst the hardware. Also interesting is why her character displays some of the behaviors she does since she has a human brain but obviously doesn’t possess some of the same morals or mannerisms that we do.
The idea of humans getting upgrades is cool as well. AI and the idea of the line between us and them is interesting and relevant to our times. Everyone is connected, living a fast pace life, destroying much of the humanity in people. They feel invulnerable, but little do they know of the problems brewing under the surface. This movie communicates the fear that tech, specifically AI, will cause people to lose their individuality.
As for the technical aspects, they are the best parts of this movie. The cinematography was good, but not great. The electronic style score was quite beautiful in places, especially the visually and sonically gorgeous rebirth of Mira. Yet for the most part, the music was just sufficient, hanging around in the background too much. The visuals were pretty cool. The CGI was usually implemented rather well, and Weta Workshop provided the film with fantastic practical effects, such as Major’s thermoptic suit, the awesome robot geishas, and the spider tank. As for the cityscape, think Fifth Element or Blade Runner. Futuristic but not unrealistic, the megalopolis appeared to be a combination of Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Hollywood. The action is pretty cool too, though not innovative. Scarlett Johansson, an excellent actress, nails her role perfectly. She kicks butt and takes names, and Batou added some much-needed beef to the screen, while Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Kitano, and our favorite supporting character) kicked it old school with a huge six gun.
As mentioned above, we do have some issues with the movie. For one, though we noted that many of Major’s characteristics are interesting, they aren’t all excellent. For example, there was really little reason for her nudity, and many of the situations didn’t call for it. In fact, few of the characters, other than Major, Batou, and Chief Aramaki, stand out. There also isn’t enough background for Major or Cutter, two obviously important characters in the film. We see Major’s birth, then bam! A year later she’s kicking butt with an elite squad. What the heck? No training? We don’t see it at least. As for Cutter, not much is given as to how he acquired his company, or really why he needs human/machine hybrids for weapons. Is he a warmonger? What gives? You don’t get as attached to the characters as you should, because they just don’t have enough weight.
In addition, the screenplay, and especially the dialogue, are forgettable. Too simplistic, repetitive, and chock full of exposition. Also, though you see the city and hear of world politics, very little is shown or told us of these things. Furthermore, there are many elements here that have been explored better in other movies. Instead of exploring something more interesting, like the morality of this world and its ethics, this movie decides to follow the worn path but at least slightly intriguing idea of identity and individuality. The story, and the way it presents its themes, just isn’t meaty enough. There’s not much to sink your teeth into. On top of that, we are spoon fed the subtext instead of the filmmakers trusting us to figure things out, and it lacks a certain heart, a certain soul. Nothing groundbreaking here.
If Ghost in the Shell were not based on a pre-existing property, what would the public’s response have been? It would probably be considered a pretty generic sci-fi story with overdone themes but with some fantastic visuals, a really good overall look and feel, some cool elements, a good performance from Scarlett Johansson, and a mostly beautiful soundtrack. We went in with low expectations and were pleased with the film. However, when it comes to editing, immersion into the larger world these characters inhabit (the population, the politics, the boundaries), and the dialogue, the movie falls a bit flat. Further, if you go ahead and compare it to the anime, it falls even shorter, as it is less psychologically and philosophically compelling. Like we said, it is decent though, and it does maintain some cool and thought-provoking elements.
As an adaptation of the 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell movie, and the Ghost in the Shell property in general, this new live action film is decently successful. Even so, what could a more experienced, unique, and interesting director have done with this movie? Mamoru Oshii, the anime movie’s director, is one of Japan’s premiere anime film directors, and it seems almost insulting to replace him with Rupert Sanders. (Sorry, Rupert!) Still, Sanders does a pretty good job with what he has. The direction is not where the main problems lie.
In the end, this remake is more respectful and successful than most critics are crediting. We’re going to give Ghost in the Shell a 71%.