“Ghost in the Shell” starring Scarlett Johansson, based off the Japanese manga and animated series of the same name, has already begun to catch a lot of flak for not living up to the original series.
In some aspects I agree with this opinion, but I find this argument is too easy to make. Of course, it is not as good as the original series. Did anyone think it was going to be? It is a film that has whitewashed the original source material, which was essentially a commentary on Japanese society as the country became entrenched in the technological boom of the 1980s and 1990s.
The Johansson-led “Ghost in the Shell” offers no such critique, and that is the least surprising thing to be found here. The idea of trans-humanism and the question of what makes humans truly human are imposed on the viewer but are never really answered.
Instead, Hollywood yet again opted to strip any resemblance of non-European culture out of a source material to make its appeal as widespread as possible, despite the film already flopping financially in United States’ box offices.
While infuriating, it is nothing Hollywood has not done before. We can simply add “Ghost in the Shell” to the long list of movies that have been whitewashed in order to gain “mainstream appeal” for a white audience. We can also chalk up “Iron Fist” and “Death Note” as two new Netflix series that have also not learned this lesson.
As a reviewer in these situations I find it useless to compare them to their original sources. I cannot review this movie in relation to the original series, even though I am a fan. We all know what “Ghost in the Shell” did wrong, but it is still worth wondering if this film is any good.
In short, “Ghost in the Shell” falls prey to a forgettable and predictable plot and hinges on the actions of a typical cookie-cutter bad guy who we have all seen in countless super hero and science fiction movies. What is funny is that the original source material for “Ghost in the Shell” is the Achilles’ heel of this version.
As the animated series, “Ghost in the Shell” began in 1995, it has influenced films like “The Matrix” and many of the superhero movies of years past. The original has developed tropes that have been carried throughout Hollywood. Maybe the most surprising thing about this version is that it does nothing new. There is no update here for a 2017 audience.
The only reason I am mentioning this is that whether or not someone is familiar with the original “Ghost in the Shell” is because they have likely seen this story played out in movies, TV shows and video games that have already borrowed heavily from the original narrative.
While the film is visually stunning in some aspects, there are a few sequences that prove entrancing. The way this film handles the opening credits and the creation of Major, who is Johansson’s character, are some of the cleverest and efficient instances of world building I have seen in a movie in recent memory.
There are only a few instances that follow the opening of the movie that really provide an enthralling spectacle. While the cityscape looks great, it feels far from inhabited. There are very few characters present in the street level shots and instead, these scenes feel more like the empty studio back lots they were probably shot on.
In terms of characters, there is very little to Johansson’s Major, even when she goes on a journey of discovering her real self. Instead, the audience hardly feels connected to her and many of the so-called emotional moments fall very flat.
The real saving grace of this movie is legendary Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano’s character Aramaki, the director of the Major’s police unit. Kitano in this movie is ridiculously cool and utters the most badass lines out of anyone. Being a huge Kitano fan and being able to see him on a film screen in a theater in the U.S. was almost worth the price of admission.
Should you see it? Probably not.
Is hating “Ghost in the Shell” the cool thing to do? I am really not sure, but I still do not think I can recommend this movie to that many people. The average moviegoer will probably not be very blown away by anything in this movie. “Ghost in the Shell” frustratingly squanders much of its potential.
James Wyatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jwwyatt2295.