Oh boy… there’s probably a lot to talk about, isn’t there?
Well, I guess I should talk about the movie that this originated from. For those of you not in the know, this is an American remake of a Japanese animated movie. Same name. Way back in 1995. It’s arguably one of the most famous anime films ever made. Complex, even challenging ideas, it’s steampunk sci-fi aesthetics, it’s beloved by most anyone who has ever seen it, especially by anime fans. Furthermore, the movie is also considered to be highly influential. Just how influential, you may ask? It heavily inspired the arguably more famous and beloved 1999 film THE MATRIX. Watch the original GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995) and you will notice a staggering amount of similarities and if you were anything like me, you’ll finally understand why so many audiences… liked, even loved, THE MATRIX, it’s not an original movie.
What was my take on the original? Er… that was pretty much it. I remember that it was basically THE MATRIX before THE MATRIX and… very little else. I admit to practically growing up on THE MATRIX, so I will naturally remember that movie a little more. While I have indeed seen the original GHOST IN THE SHELL, I don’t recall much of its story or characters, or anything for that matter. So going in to its remake, I have very little to compare it to. Maybe that’s a good thing considering all you potential fans have developed your own feelings about it by now. However you want to spin it, I only saw the original film once and I don’t remember it very well.
So… what were my impressions of this movie before seeing it? It looked like a visual trip, but a pretty underwhelming type of story. Initial impressions, like I said, but it looked interesting enough that it was the most anticipated movie of the week for me. I wasn’t expecting anything… great, but I figured the visuals would hold me over.
Okay, star power. Controversially starring is Scarlett Johansson (SING , CHEF , THE AVENGERS , and upcoming films ROUGH NIGHT  and AVENGERS: INFINITY WARS ). Yup, I guess it’s best to talk about that controversy. The film received a sizable amount of backlash after a white woman was cast in a role meant for a Japanese actress. Of course, were I to take a wild guess, most of the hate comes from anime crazies who need everything to be PC these days. How do I feel about it? Well, to my understanding, the only group that seemed to be okay with the casting are the people from that little country that I’m sure no one’s heard of: the Japanese. Seriously, check out this video on Youtube.
If you wanted me to comment on the whitewashing, it depends on the manner in which you ask me. Am I outraged simply because the character isn’t played by a Japanese woman? No. Actors act and if they can bring something that resembles, or improves upon the character originally portrayed, then anyone can play the role so long as the role is written well and the actor does it justice. My outrage would come from the reasons why Johansson was cast as opposed to a Japanese female. Did a Japanese female audition for the role, but was deemed less talented than Johansson? Or was Johansson just unanimously given the role without even considering to cast someone of ethnicity? If that was the case, yes, this is America and Hollywood needs to open their minds to better marketing and not relying solely on star power. But I don’t know the details of the decision-making, I haven’t looked into it either, nor would I be able to believe any interviewee that would deny it, so it’s pure speculation and I won’t comment on something that I technically don’t know anything about. In any case, Johansson… meh, indifferent. Other talents include Pilou Asbæk (THE GREAT WALL , BEN-HUR , and LUCY ), Juliette Binoche (THE 33 , GODZILLA , and DAN IN REAL LIFE ), Michael Pitt (CRIMINAL , MURDER BY NUMBERS , and TV show BOARDWALK EMPIRE), and Peter Ferdinando (300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE , SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN , and the upcoming KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD ).
Now for the crew. Directing is Rupert Sanders, known for SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Red Flag alert! There are three writers attached to this: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger. Moss is known for STREET KINGS (2008) and is slated for the upcoming SAFE HOUSE 2, due out… who knows when. Wheeler is known for QUEEN OF KATWE (2016), THE HOAX (2006), and the upcoming LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017). Finally, Kruger is known for TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014), THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005), THE RING (2002), and the upcoming live-action remake of DUMBO, due out… some time in the future. Co-composing the music are Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell. Balfe is known for THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017), 13 HOURS (2016), and TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015), and Mansell is known for NOAH (2014), BLACK SWAN (2010), and video game MASS EFFECT 3. Finally, the cinematographer is Jess Hall, known for TRANSCENDENCE (2014), THE SWITCH (2010), and HOT FUZZ (2007).
So… how was it? How did this movie hold up to my expectations?
This is my honest opinion of: GHOST IN THE SHELL
Major (Scarlett Johansson) suffered a near fatal accident that destroyed her human body, but her brain was transplanted into a robotic one, the first of her kind, and one year later, serves as a respected officer of law enforcement. After some important people are murdered by hacked robots, Major and her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) are tasked with hunting down Kuze (Michael Pitt), the hacker responsible for the deaths, all the while rediscovering her unknown past and questioning if she’s more machine than human.
Remember how THE MATRIX borrowed a ton of stuff from the original GHOST IN THE SHELL? Well, this one borrowed a ton of stuff from THE DARK KNIGHT (2009). Almost uncomfortably so. Hell, the opening scene is straight up from from that scene when Batman goes to Japan to bring that dude back to Gotham. On top of a huge skyscraper in a Japan-like setting, looking down on the group of bad guys who are in another building, jumps, and crashes through a window to kick some ass. Hell, it even borrowed from DARK KNIGHT’s climax with a sonar/virtual fly-through of the building under attack shown through a pair of eyewear, getting fed info from an old man not in the vicinity. It’s… really bizarre.
In fact, most of the problems with the movie are plain as day in that first scene and will sum up the rest of the film. The setting looks like BLADE RUNNER (1982), you have characters jumping off tall buildings like in every superhero film, cliché lines like, “We’re two minutes away,” “No time, have to go now or innocents die,” and a ton of slow-mo. It’s not poorly done, and mercifully, you can follow the action. Although, my complaint here is that the action presented to us doesn’t really need it. In fact, it would have provided something more visceral and intense if it was shot in normal speed. It was choreographed and shot well enough to warrant it, but whatever. Hell, even it’s own theme of, “What does it mean to be human” has nothing new to it. If you’ve seen any movie with machines acting like people, or anything of that nature, then this theme has been tackled in much better movies. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) anyone?
Now for Johansson. I didn’t care for her in this. Don’t get me wrong, she’s by no means a bad actress and she’s not even bad here. But she’s not great either. She’s passable. You need her to look good shooting a gun? She’ll look good blowing a head off. Need her to look good punching a dude in the face? She’ll kick some ass. Need her to look good kinda naked? She’ll look good doin’ that too. I have no problems with watching her on screen being an action star, but as far as bringing any drama or emotional intensity to the role, she is given nothing. Obviously, I don’t blame her for this, this is a result of mediocre writing, but this is a role that could have been played by anybody. Johannson does well enough to not be bad, but it’s only a step up above LUCY (2014), which wasn’t amazing either. Anybody could have played this role, so I don’t think she’s anything to write home about.
That’s another big issue with this movie. The characters are thin. Major: she questions her humanity. Looks at a machine and wonders what the difference is between her and it. Batou: he’s Major’s partner. Okay… good for him? Doctor Ouelet: she cares about Major like a daughter. Nice idea, but doesn’t play into much. Cutter, the villain: he’s… a dick. Well gee wiz, son, I’ve never seen a villain who had diabolical intentions. It’s not an impressive cast of characters. Again, no one delivers a bad performance, but no one delivers a stellar performance either. No one’s fault, it’s entirely the fault of the script, but it’s a shame.
No originality, nearly no standout performances, a story recycled like nobody’s business, and if I can spot continuity errors – seriously, there’s a moment where a guy is leaning on a desk, propping himself up on his knuckles, next shot, his hand is flat, next shot, on his knuckles again – you know your movie is screwed. So with that said, does anything save the movie? Well, some things are worth noting.
For one thing, yeah, the visuals aren’t new, but by God, they look astounding. The visuals are amazing to look at. But more importantly there a staggering amount of practical effects that really should be appreciated. In most sci-fi movies of this caliber, it’d be way too easy to make everything digital and computer generated. But this movie didn’t do that, and that’s to be respected for their above and beyond approach.
Also, my favorite part of the movie, Pitt as Kuze. He’s a character who was a failed version of Major who wants revenge. Again, the make-up on the guy is awesome and his speech is chilling. He also doesn’t really conduct himself like a bad-guy. You can tell there’s a great tragedy and sadness about him and you almost want to see him achieve his goals. It’s a pretty well-executed performance and I loved it.
But other than that, this isn’t a very good movie. I’m sure I’d hate it if I were to revisit the original, but as it stands, I can’t act like this is the most god-awful film, but it’s so bland and standard for the most part and I can’t say that I cared for it. If you wanted a standard sci-fi action movie, then that’s what you’ll get. But if you wanted something smart and even up there with ground-breaking, then this is definitely not for you. I say it’s not worth seeing in theaters. Maybe a rent if you’re that curious, but you’re not missing out.
My honest rating for GHOST IN THE SHELL: a weak 3/5