Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Review

With the new Hollywood remake out in cinemas, it was inevitable the Manga original was going to get a revisit. Or for some, a first viewing. The new Ghost in the Shell is best-known – for the time being, at least – for being responsible for reigniting the whitewashing in American movies. The original was the attempt to penetrate the western mainstream. It failed. But was it fairly overlooked?

It’s interesting when you ask people about Manga. Some will mention Akira before tailing off. Many recognise the niche films as a mark of honour. A nineties cult that defined a new type of geek-cool. For our in-house WWE expert, Clive Balls, who spent time living in Japan, they are more than quirky, in many ways they already trump Hollywood.

To the man in the middle (me), they are somewhere in between. Atmospheric animation that delves into thought provoking issues. They’re certainly not cartoons. They are the Japanese graphic novel without the awkward ties to forties comics.

Ghost in the Shell was a film ahead of its time. It took on artificial intelligence long before the current Westworld revival. It deals with gender and strips away all preconceptions long before the world at large listened to LGBT rights. The makers envisioned large networks and interconnectivity while we were all accessing the internet with dial-up.

The story centres on Major (she’s the Scarlett Johannson character). An outwardly looking female but her nakedness that reveals the dream body is purely to activate camouflage. The strength she displays and all her drives are asexual. She is something else in a world where cyborgs are commonplace, each believing they possess a soul – the ghost in the shell.

A complex argument of what defines consciousness, the individual traits that are left behind, creating the person.

As revelations unravel, Major worries that her ghost could just be clever programming. This comes about when her unit, a government agency, realises a hacker is at work, it appears the corporation that makes government cyborgs has been infiltrated.

The Puppet Master, is the name the hacker goes by, and it sets Major up for a showdown. With it, a deep insight into her own existence.

To go into further detail will unravel the apex of the story. The main takeaway from Ghost in the Shell after all these years is that the mood and feel stands up to anything that has come since. Some hallmarks have been outright robbed in major Hollywood films. The way characters move during action scenes is now the way CGI enhanced stuntmen do combat.

The soundtrack could be where Manga borrowed ideas from western sci-fi, even when using traditional Japanese songs, in terms of tension building. But the pacing is a let-down. The philosophical statements are unlikely to be surpassed in the 2017 live action remake but the flow of the film has room for improvement.

To answer the question in the opening paragraph: Yes, originally it was overlooked when it should have been embraced rather than copied. But time has aged some of its parts and degraded the once four-star film.

6/10

The Lego Batman Movie – Review

After 2016’s flurry of superhero films, this year promises to keep up the trend. Before the world feels burnt out with them, Warner Bros. hand over their prime property to The Lego franchise. Before we get more of the Ben Affleck Dark Knight, we get Will Arnett’s light-hearted brick version.

Criticism Marvel fanboys aim at their DC counterparts is they are too serious and dark, that comic books should be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with The Lego Batman Movie. Sure, it’s not a canon entry. It’s aimed at the kids’ market (some would say, this is Marvel’s core audience) but if you need the exact opposite of “serious and dark” then this is it.

Like the best of modern animation movies – looking at you Toy Story – there’s action for the kids and jokes for the parents. Lego Batman pleases the children with explosive action sequences, Lego being used and reshaped to create unique outcomes, and behaviour they can relate to. When The Joker fires his weapon, he makes little shooting sounds just like kids playing with Lego need to do.

The Lego Gotham City does feel authentic. You can tell what world we’re in. All the rogues are here too, proving that a good film can survive with an overflow of enemies. It’s clear from the start the movie’s makers are willing to point fun at the source material, and at first, having nearly every conceivable Batman villain on screen seems like a quick pun. But they stick around and The Joker manages to recruit even more bad guys.

Thanks to the Lego tie in, anyone that can be made from the little bricks appears. Even the Daleks show up, although never referenced by name.

The main story is how Batman is too withdrawn and refuses help. Cue Robin and new Commissioner and soon to be Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Alongside this is how he breaks The Joker’s heart by denying him the title of main villain. He says he fights around, that there isn’t an “us.” It’s great humour that will probably fly over the heads of younger members of the audience.

To make Batman appreciate him, Joker hands himself – and all the villains in Gotham – over to new Commissioner Gordon. Batman, easily manipulated by his nemesis, doesn’t sit tight and starts a sequence of events that sees Joker release all the baddies from Superman’s Phantom Zone.

Suddenly Gotham needs Batman again but he can’t do it alone.

Usually kiddies’ films like this are big on the moral message and speed up the slower adult scenes. Here, even though the ideas it’s trying to tell are plainly obvious, they blend into the background. Early on the plot building will lose some younger viewers. Even when having fun, Batman has to be moody.

The Easter eggs, often in the form of one-liners, come thick and fast, and clearly are designed for older ears. The fun is bright and outlandish, satisfying the kids. The flashy sequences aren’t to cover any deficiencies in the cast either.

Ralph Fiennes does a great turn as Alfred, Michael Cera is back to form as Robin, and it’s a compliment to say you won’t realise (although, you will now) Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon. Even the cameos go to big names.

It doesn’t pull on heartstrings like some animation movies nor is it a film made just for children. It’s not perfect but it works well and Bat-fans and kids alike will enjoy it.

7/10