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

Captain America: Civil War – Review

If you eat too much of anything, however much you may enjoy it, you’ll eventually become bloated. 2016 could be the serving of one superhero film feast too many. To make matters worse, here is a review for another that sees good guys face good guys. Can Captain America: Civil War add energy to Marvel’s concept and make us forget the market is oversaturated?

I’ll save you reading 500 words and give you the answer now: It’s a big, fat, No!

Now I’ll humbly explain why.

It starts with so much promise. Captain America and his team (Black Widow, Falcon, Scarlet Witch) are heading an espionage mission in Africa. At this point I found myself applauding the Captain’s films. I like how they blend superhero with spy movie. Had this remained the case – indeed, remained a Captain America film – we wouldn’t have had a problem.

The problem came when Scarlet Witch, by accident, threw a baddie into a building full of innocents.

Cue the morale debate about should superheroes be allowed to go around without anyone giving them orders. A little bit like the Superman subplot in Batman v Superman but without any of the meat on the tired old bones.

Rather than it be an area of worthy exploration, it becomes nothing more than a plot device. And what a dire plot. Captain’s buddy, Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier, appears to blow up the UN when all The Avengers minus Captain America sign a new treaty, placing them under the control of men rather than being outside of the law.

Obviously, Captain America has to defend a guy he shared double-billing with on the last solo movie poster and Iron Man has to stick to the letter of the (new) law and treat him as a criminal. Also pretty obvious, is how it’s all been a set-up to make Bucky look bad. The motivations and the main bad guy an extraneous excuse to see our heroes have a fight.

Once the action starts, you may ask, surely it masks the poor plot?

Nah, not really. Ant-Man steals the show in the main battle, which is more like handbags at ten paces. And proving that Marvel fanboys make the most noise but the least sense, I can now confirm the new Spider-Man is the worst incarnation seen on the big screen.

Andrew Garfield must be wondering how on Earth Marvel couldn’t have shoehorned his version into the movie instead of this lame replacement. The teabag I squeezed out of my cup ten minutes ago has more screen presence than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. As Spider-Man, things do improve, but Garfield was more wisecracking and it felt more natural.

While I will never deny the beauty of Marisa Tomei, is it really progressive to have her as Aunt May? The moral compass of a young hero that still looks like the lap dancer from The Wrestler? Yeah, that’ll work, Marvel.

The flaws in the films message and the bad guy’s main intention fall apart in the final scenes because it is plain stupid. His idea could never have worked and there’d always be some version of The Avengers regardless of infighting.

Sadly, due to overeager reviewers and the fanboys, there’ll always be Marvel movies like this.

It isn’t the worst ever (it can thank Iron Man 2 for that) but it isn’t far behind. It seems unfair Marvel can be applauded for another misfire while DC struggle for any type of credit from mainstream critics.

If things don’t vastly improve in the MCU, sooner or later others will speak up, and 2018’s Infinity War may forever be in pre-production.

5/10 (It would have been 4/10, if not for the opening Captain America elements.)