Ghost in the Shell (2017 Movie Review)

A Shell Of It's Former Self

Ghost in the Shell is an American science fiction film set in the near future where being part robot is the hip way to be. Based on the 1989 manga and 1995 anime film of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is based in a world where technology has advanced to the point where almost everyone has at least some parts of their body replaced with cybernetic parts. Cyber-liver, cyber-eyes, cyber-arms, a cyber-USB port next to their left nipple: the possibilities are endless, all whilst the line between human and machine is questioned.

It's like New York City and Rainbow Road had a baby.

It's based around Scarlett Johansson's lead take on Major Mira Killian, the first of a human brain inside a fully mechanical cybernetic body, also known as a "shell". Told upon awakening in her new body that her parents were killed by terrorists, the Scarlett-played Major joins bureau Section 9: questing to take down a cybernetic terrorist as a cyborg badass who also desires to learn of who she was in her past life. This overlay of plots is where Ghost in the Shell seems to have stumbled in its quest to bring a live action adaptation of sweet, anime goodness to the masses. The number of positives outweigh that of the negatives but it's the significance of the latter that's halted its potential to being a critical or box office champion.

Great Outfit.

What's great to witness about Ghost in the Shell though is the look of the world it's set in. The Rupert Sanders-directed production managed to create a vibrant, life-filled city that looks like it's been ripped directly from a trippy anime canvas. Going back to the random robot body parts people have, the visual effects are done so well, and it gives a fascinating look into what life could be like when cybernetic body parts become a more viable possibility. There's a woman whose eyes are taken on and off like a visor for God's sake! You don't want to look away. Anime/manga fans alongside newcomers to the franchise will love the faithfulness applied in the aesthetic department. You know how you can get bored in a film when it keeps putting you in front of generic establishing shots to set up a scene? Well, each one is so mesmerising in Ghost in the Shell with whatever is going on, that you'll gladly welcome it each time. This is all while the nerd-tingling soundtrack is playing, that mixes in the esteem-worthy music from the anime film with a modern-yet-futuristic twist. 

Pretty things.

Same goes for the look of some of the characters too. Aside from Scarlett Jo as The Major, Pilou Asbæk (who played Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) as the Major's part-cyber-bro Batou gives an epic performance as a no-nonsense, banter-fuelled solider who does what needs to be done. He lives up to, if not expands on what's enjoyable about the character. The Section 9 Commander; Daisuke Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano, even wonderfully fulfils the role of the kickass-with-a-bit-of-sass old man character trope we've come to love over the years. On the other hand, we don't really see much of him doing anything at all until the third act. Until then, he's just sort of there. Aside from Major and Batou, I didn't feel anything about any of the other characters. Without there given much knowledge about them or a proper look into their personalities given, there's nothing to empathise or reason to care about them. They're more like extras who say the occasional quip.

Sweet hair, bro.

For those who didn't know about the casting controversy with Scarlet Johansson's selection as Major, the film suffered a sub-par box office return. Alongside the so-so promotion and not-mainstream-friendly plot, it's been partly blamed on it being blasted by fans and critics for casting a white woman in what was assumed to be an Asian role. However, despite all this, I feel that Johansson's take on the role creates an interestingly complex and vulnerable Major, and I feel her personality, technique and talent does the character justice. Scar-Jo was even praised for her performance by the 1995 film's director, Mamoru Oshii too.

"I got youuuu under my skin".

Despite creating a great artistic portrait with Ghost in the Shell's aesthetics and the majority of its cast, the art of story telling and creating an exciting plot is a disappointment. Whilst the action scenes, plot set-up and world building established in the first act are as thrilling as a cup of coffee mixed with Red Bull, it goes off track to a messy pace. Elements from the original 82-minute anime film are chopped up and remixed in to this 106-minute retelling. There's an extra villain added in addition to the personality and presence of the original villain, making the original one feel generic and watered down. I wasn't fascinated by either of their motives and instead reminded me of whenever you see a generic villain in a 90's action film and are like "Oh no. A bad guy. Go get 'um".

Nightmare fuel.

Whilst the manga and anime mainly focused on the cyber terrorist threat, with Major's desire to question her own humanity taking a more subtle back seat, both plots are explored equally and intertwine this time around. The issue was that during the bits in between the start and the end of the film, my attention was fading more and more as the two mixing stories built up, all whilst tirelessly throwing exposition at me just to make sure I knew what was going on. It's fascinating to see Major's quest to learn about herself and her humanity on a deeper level, all whilst seeing a more vulnerable and human version of her, but the whole thing just feels bogged down.

Final Thoughts

The efforts to both be faithful to the source material and create a story that's accessible to the mainstream in today's film industry is what truly crippled the flow of Ghost in the Shell: bringing the potential for excitement to its knees alongside our ability to care about what's going on. It can't all be bashed though. It's a visual beauty, with some impressive action scenes and there are a couple of good performances (out of many cast members though). It's simply fun to see the possibility of a world where anyone could pop over somewhere to pick up a new metal arm or have 3 spare sets of cyber noses. I'd love to see more of that world but that's the problem with Ghost in the Shell: I'd love to see more from this world but not in THIS film. If I had to see it again and I wasn't allowed to skip over what happens between the first and final scenes, I'd compare it to when you realise you have to cook for once instead of getting food delivered, I just can't be bothered. There's reward in seeing it but said reward is little compared to the large husk of the viewing chore ahead of you. It's a good try and an interesting experience but Ghost in the Shell is an example of why some films should be shorter. A lot shorter.

Rating: 5/10

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