Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

The fuss of casting a white actress in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell can at last take a (temporary) backseat. It helps that the actor in question is Scarlett Johansson, she has the screen presence to divert attention to what is important. As always, that should be the plot.

Playing the role of the Major, a rank we see her attain here after a short opening sequence that reveals her “creation” and/or alteration. She is Mira Killian, her brain is planted into a perfect engineered cybernetic body made by Hanka Robotics. The CEO there, Cutter, sees her as a weapon and wants her up and running as soon as possible.

The designer, Juliette Binoche’s Dr Ouelet (because white people make, as well as look, like the best of Asia in this future world), sees Major as a living person. Most definitely not an object. And therein begins our moral tale of consciousness and what constitutes life. However, unlike the animated original, these themes – along with the entire movie – have been made more accessible for a mainstream audience.

It means the deeper philosophical questions have been dumbed down and the action sequences, instead pioneering like its forbearer, become generic and lifeless. They do pay homage to scenes from the original, at times it’s as if moments have been lifted from there. And the authenticity of the environment is solid throughout.

It falls down when it comes to adding suspense and the journey Major undertakes to reveal her true identity (it isn’t Killian). It’s noble they tried to add the backstory in what they must be hoping is a franchise, but everything is far too obvious.

Whether it be Hanko turning on Major, to the main plot of seemingly malevolent AI that is looking to bring down Hanko. This third-party intelligence is at odds with Major’s views of the world, leading to Hanko losing faith, despite Dr Ouelet’s protests.

It seems tech companies like to be run by bad guys once they’re making revolutionary strides forward. Hanko is like RoboCop’s OCP. A company in deep with the government and run lawlessly from within.

Visually, it can be stunning at times. A body suit clad Johansson is always going to be easy on the eye, and as mentioned, the set pieces breathe life into the world they are trying to replicate from the original. Perhaps the finale goes too big on the Hollywood action, and the setting feels at odds with all that came before it.

But as something to look at, whether it be Major, Hideo (we see why he needs the goggles), the city, or most of the fight scenes, it deserves the title: Ghost in the Shell.

It even tries to carry the heart of the original and gets a free pass, this time, because of the leading lady.

Sadly, it just lacks that something special beyond the performance of Johansson to make it noteworthy. The 1995 version was ground-breaking in many ways, this is the exact opposite. It plays it safe, using standard techniques and methods we’ve seen a million times before in countless forgettable movies.

Hopefully there is enough of an interest to allow Section 9 another chance but without Rupert Sanders in the director’s chair.

5/10

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