Ghost In the Shell Review 2017 – Hauntingly Mediocre
Ghost In the Shell – Missing Part of Its Soul
Before I jump into the Ghost in the Shell review, I wanted to state my position on the perceived ‘whitewashing’ of the Major’s role being cast with Scarlett Johansson. While I get the purist point of view that it should be someone new/else, I get that tying your lead character to a popular actor maximizes the potential for a return on investment for the film businesses involved. As long as the story is told well and the performances are good, I really didn’t care either way.
Ghost In the Shell is a competent cyberpunk/science fiction effects-laden spectacle, drug down by wooden acting and flimsy plot choices.
Story and Pacing:
Ghost in the Shell is based off a Japanese manga and anime of the same name by Masamune Shirow. This film features a modified origin about a young woman who is rescued from a terrorist attack, but in order to survive her brain is placed into an android body by a benevolent, but self-serving corporation working in tandem with the Japanese government. Her name is Major, played by Scarlet Johannsen, and she is meant to be the emotional center of the story.
Hailed as the potential future of mankind, her disconnection with the world and lack of her own memories being put into the body serve as an existential tale of caution about the excess of technology.
Within a year, she is leader of a black ops team called Section 9. During an operation they encounter a new villain who seems to be targeting familiar people, and the search for answers for both Section 9 and the Major begin. Batou, Togusa and Chief Daisuke Aramaki.
The story has never been the issue; both the manga and anime series previously published do an excellent job of telling Major’s development as a character, with the post-Matrix cyberpunk world serving as almost an extra character.
Where the film stumbles is in its pacing – Batou is the only character we really get to spend any real time with from the team, to the point that 1 hour and 40 minutes into the movie a character showed up that if I hadn’t read the books and seen the anime, I wouldn’t have known who it was. In fact, because this was a new actor, I didn’t know who it was for a moment, completely removing me from the immersion of the movie.
We are given broad brushstrokes of characters, introducing questions that are never answered. There is simply not enough time given to character development, and in some cases (the apartment scene) where it is so rushed it is almost absurd.
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano is the clear standout for best acting in the movie. Weirdly, he is the only character that speaks untranslated Japanese (which I have no problems with). There is a scene where he is being confronted, where a simple glare delivers more of an acting performance than all of Scarlett Johansson’s 2 hours of wooden training dummy performance. I sincerely thought she watched every bad Nicholas Cage movie to perfect the slack-jawed, slightly open-mouthed, glazed stare that says “I just got smacked in the head with a large fish!” look. Her response to throwing a punch and a heavy emotional moment are exactly the same. Disconnected and isolated does not mean dead. Wherever you fall on the whitewashing controversy about her casting, the fact of the matter is that she was a bad casting choice who made poor performance choices in the film. She plays the Major as arrogant, invincible and quite frankly, insane for no reason–as if she does not value her life in any way. Throughout Ghost In the Shell, Major makes horrible choice after horrible choice for no discernable reason. And while you can blame that partly on the script, how an actor chooses to convey the nonverbal and add weight to a scene, bringing us on that decision-making journey with her; that never happens here.
The villain has a robotic voice in the movie, and I almost burst out laughing at the irony in the theater – they cast a robot for both the villain AND the main character. (ScarJo’s range is pretty much robotic throughout.)
Pilou Asbaek’s Batou has the second most screen time and is a competent performance, endearing you to Section 9, since he’s the most facetime the team receives. Juliette Binoche does well enough, but paired throughout most of the movie with either a robot (ScarJo) or Peter Ferdinando’s Cutter – who is so over the top schlock (with no motivation given), that her performance is buffered. There is a scene between Binoche and Johannsen that again, could have added real weight, but instead Johannsen’s performance greatly diminishes it.
Presentation and Effects:
I’m fairly sure most of the movie was shot in front of green screens. The amount of detail, color and movement in this movie is staggering. The cinematography is well-thought out and executed, and the cyberpunk, augmented and physical effects work is done very well – save for one scene after someone has some augmentation done, but you could still see past the corner of the new prosthetic. If you aren’t looking for it, however, I’m fairly sure the average person would miss it.
The film is beautiful and I viewed it in 3D. The only odd moment I had was at the beginning of the film, when the camera does a pan and track to Scarlett Johansson on the top of a building – and for some reason it felt like bad VR and almost made me sick. Obviously this effect was not present in the 2D version, so your mileage may very. The soundtrack was there, but I can’t say I remember anything out of the ordinary for it.
I suppose I should discuss the Major’s invisible suit – if you’re looking to spend two hours gazing at ScarJo’s naked body with the naughty bits airbrushed away, then this is the movie for you. It leaves nothing to the imagination, and I’m pretty sure I now know what religion she is.
I neither penalized nor credited the movie for this, but it is something prevalent throughout the movie, so if that is something that may cause you discomfort, then take that into consideration before purchasing your ticket.
Summary and Verdict
Ghost In the Shell is a perfect example of a good formula with poor execution. There is so much focus on worldbuilding that making sure we get enough time with the characters we are supposed to become attached to seems like an afterthought. While the effects are amazing, the plot, logic and acting choices make it a middling outing at best. I didn’t want my money back, but I didn’t feel connected enough to the movie to be able to recommend it to everyone. If you’re looking for amazing effects with a cyberpunk theme, then this may entertain you for a couple hours. If you’re looking for a good movie, however, I’d recommend to wait until you can see it for free.