GHOST IN THE SHELL

PrintE-mail Written by Ryan Pollard

Translating manga/anime to live-action films has not always worked out for the best considering what happened with Dragonball and Speed Racer, but Ghost in the Shell had initial promise, and while it is the best live-action anime adaptation to date, that’s not saying a whole much in its favour. Beginning life in 1989 as a manga series by Masamune Shirow, the books cleverly explored the topics of design and philosophy, as well as sociological issues, the nature of consciousness and identity/individuality and the consequences of technological advances. Mamoru Oshii translated that phenomenally in both his 1995 original anime movie and the 2004 sequel Innocence, and has carried on with great effect through into its TV spin-offs Stand Alone Complex and Arise. A template was already established, and the potential for a perfect live-action adaptation of the previous texts was present, but unfortunately, what we have is just a shell of a movie (no pun intended) that isn’t as deep or as thought-provoking as it thinks it is.

 

This is a real shame considering the huge amount of potential that was there, and on certain levels, this movie succeeds with flying colours in a few departments. The visual aesthetic of the movie is absolute perfection; thanks to the combined work of Jess Hall’s cinematography, Weta Workshop’s art design and practical effects, and the VFX work by Moving Picture Company, the world of Ghost in the Shell is brought to life flawlessly with machinery enriched with gorgeous attention to detail, massive skyscrapers and city complexes shimmering with neon lights and bright billboards and giant holograms superimposed onto buildings and towering over its small denizens. What’s accomplished here is nothing short of amazing, and major plaudits to everyone directly involved for bringing this world to life with this level of detail. The same can also be said of the sound department since what they do with the sound design is incredible, plus when it kicks into high gear, Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe’s score is truly fantastic.

 

As for the casting, this is where the movie has received the most level of controversy and criticism due to the presence of Scarlett Johansson leading to the accusations of white-washing, yet despite all of that, Johansson proves her naysayers wrong by doing a commendable job. Much like Ben Affleck in last year’s Batman v Superman, Johansson does the very best with the material that has been given to her, and she pulls it off exceptionally well and succeeds in bringing the Major to life. Both Pilou Asbæk and Michael Carmen Pitt are incredibly solid in their respective roles as Batou and Kuze, while Juliette Binoche and Peter Ferdinando collect their pay cheques and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano just sleepwalks his way throughout in a wasted role as Aramaki.

 

If you just want to get lost in the world for a near couple of hours then this film does its job at that, but basically it does ONLY that, as this is a film that impresses through visual spectacle alone and nothing else. Actual storytelling, depth, complexity, philosophy, originality and longevity are all completely forgotten, which is inexcusable, as this movie required a skilled filmmaker to bring this story to the big screen. Unfortunately, longtime-meddler and producer Avi Arad decided to go for Rupert Sanders, who is basically the British equivalent of Zack Snyder by being a visual genius but a storytelling disaster as previously demonstrated by his last outing in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. If the absolutely gorgeous paintjob was removed, what you have is a story that is pretty shockingly generic, shallow and basic compared to, not just previous Ghost in the Shell entries, but also the best sci-fi movies out there like Blade Runner and Inception. The story here by screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Transformers’ Ehren Krueger rehashes a lot of generic concepts and ideas that have already been touched upon before and done better (particularly Robocop), and while interesting topics and ideologies are raised, the film never goes anywhere with them and never dives deep into its core aspects and themes. Just because previous Ghost in the Shell properties had much more compelling storylines doesn’t mean it’s time to give in and bail out. This is Ghost in the Shell here, so they should’ve have tried much harder.

 

Plus, it hurts even worse when you see how thematic, exciting and cool certain scenes and moments in the movie are and the potential for what they could’ve been in a proper fleshed-out narrative. Also, the movie tries to reverse the central message of the original 1995 movie by embracing individuality and identity than subverting it, and while this is an ambitious move on the filmmakers’ part, the execution of it is really eyebrow raising, particularly the lazy, laughable denouement at the end, which feels like something you’d normally see at the end of a superhero movie. In regards to the action scenes, they come across as pretty standard fare with plenty of slow-mo and choppy editing, so if you’re expecting flawless action you may be disappointed there too.

 

In the end, this adaptation of Ghost in the Shell could easily have been so much more, but instead, it goes down in history as one of the most glorified, high-budget fan films to be released theatrically. It’s fun in parts and has great moments to boost, but when you factor in the problematic trio of Avi Arad, Rupert Sanders and Ehren Krueger, the unsatisfying storytelling and the fact that we should expect more from this beloved franchise, especially considering that there is a great template (from the previous manga, anime movies and TV shows) in how to execute it properly and the fact this is the best that they could accomplish, makes this somewhat disappointing.

 

GHOST IN THE SHELL / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: RUPERT SANDERS / SCREENPLAY: JAMIE MOSS, WILLIAM WHEELER, EHREN KRUGER / STARRING: SCARLETT JOHANSSON, MICHAEL PITT, PILOU ASBÆK, JULIETTE BINOCHE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 

Expected rating: 8/10

Final rating:



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