Ghost in the Shell (2017)

6:30 PM

They didn't save your life, they stole it.
This review contains Spoilers
 Ghost in the Shell is directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White & The Huntsman) and is based off of the anime classic of the same name. The film stars Scarlett Johansson (Avengers, Lucy), Pilou Asbæk (Lucy, A Hijacking) and a pretty diverse ensemble. "In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals". Ghost in the Shell is a pretty important film - it is opening mainstream audiences up to something completely different. Will it open the door or will it keep it closed?

Ghost in the Shell is a real mixed bag - visually, it's flawless but narratively, it's a mess. I didn't really know what to expect going in - I haven't seen the anime and from the marketing, I thought it was either going to be incredible or terrible - I didn't expect to come out sitting on the fence which is what has happened. There are so many things about the film that are missed opportunities - the casting, the pacing etc. I think the only people who would like this film are fans of the anime or anime in general - it's a little too weird and out-there for an everyday moviegoer unfortunately. 

This film is heavily driven by star power and that star is Scarlett Johansson. I would call myself a fan of Johansson - Black Widow is probably my favourite Avengers character and I thoroughly enjoyed (her in) Lucy. Ghost in the Shell is supposedly meant to be her next solo action outing but I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by her performance. I honestly think someone else would have been better suited for the role - in more ways than one. Let's begin with the main controversy surrounding the film - the white-washing. The character of Major should be played by an Asian actress so Johansson doesn't visually or ethnically fit the role. I also think there's something missing in Johansson's performance - I know the character is basically a robot so isn't supposed to be empathetic but Major is technically to the standard of Ava in Ex Machina and Alicia Vikander really made that character come across as both a human and a robot. There wasn't much charisma in Johansson's performance and I wasn't convinced by her action sequences - which is surprising considering she should be an expert in that field. I'm not saying Johansson is a bad actress because she's generally alright in this film but I think Lucy was a far better showcase of her acting and action ability - Black Widow also. The fact that Johansson is miscast in general makes the whole white-washing fiasco even worse because it's not like they cast Johansson because she was right for the role, they simply cast her to draw in audiences. White-washing needs to stop, no matter the star, and I think Ghost in the Shell's expected depreciated box office will teach studios that. What also made the white-washing even worse was when Major visits her ghost's mum and funny enough the actress playing the mum is Asian. Even though Johansson's aesthetic is just the shell of the person within, it was still ridiculous trying to believe that this Asian woman was Scarlett Johansson's mother. However, in the film's defence - it could be argued that the white-washing was deliberate and was making a social commentary within the film. Let me explain...So, the company that is taking these young Asian teen's souls is putting all of them in Western shells - this is seen with our main/false antagonist. Is the film trying to tell us that big corporations (e.g Disney) are Americanising the world and getting rid of culture? Sadly, I think it was simply a decision based on money but it would be nice to think the film had some more interesting depth and ideas. Another piece of depth the film tried to shoehorn in towards the end was that the human within the shell used to write blogs on the dangers of technology - I just wish the film had explored this a little more which would give me more to analyse and get interested in. Other than Johansson, the rest of the cast do a fine job - nobody was a scene stealer and I think a few potentially interesting characters were not given enough screen time at all. 

Simply put, Ghost in the Shell is a visual masterpiece. Anything goes in this world - the visual effects are very trippy and futuristic - I haven't seen anything like it. I also can't dampen the quality of the visuals - they are spectacularly done making this film a real treat for the eyes. One missed opportunity in the film was world building - I really got an idea for this city and I wanted to know more about it but sadly this film told me the bare minimum. I think if the film took it's time a little more (more on that later), we would have got the opportunity to explore. I would also have liked a little explanation to why the future was like this - there has to be history for how humankind got like this. All in all though, this film is very stylish and one thing I definitely came away beaming about was how it looked. Unfortunately though, the action sequences were slightly underwhelming - all of the cool shots from the trailers take place during the first action sequence which sadly leaves not much more on the table. I think this film should have taken a leaf out of John Wick's book which are very heavily stylised films that utilise that style in their action - unfortunately the action sequences are pretty bog standard.  The final battle was too short and underwhelming - even though the third act was rushed, I just didn't care for the final fight so when Major starts a monologue about justice, I just thought, 'justice for what though?'. 

Where this film really missteps though is the plot - the film changes its mind on the story half way through. One minute, GITS is about a group trying to take down a mysterious villain who is targeting important people and then all of a sudden, it's a character study full of development on Major and her ghost. I think these would have worked much better as two films - I would have slowed the pace of both parts majorly and took my time telling them. I know this film is unlikely to make the kind of money that would green light a sequel but sometimes I wish Hollywood wasn't all about money and this would have been two films no matter what. Imagine how great a cliffhanger it would have been with Major finding out that all her current memories are false?! Either that or I think that this story would have been more suited to a HBO or Netflix series - still a reasonably sized budget but just more time to tell the story. Ghost in the Shell feels rushed but I have to say, I enjoyed the 'second plot' of the film a little more (up until the final battle) - it was more original and interesting. Even though I haven't seen the original anime, it's apparently not very faithful which is not a good sign. I also think there is a little too much homework that goes with this film - I feel like things were being referenced and spoken about that just went over my head because I haven't seen the anime. 

There are so many changes that could be made to Ghost in the Shell to make it an even better movie - instead, it's two stories merged and squeezed into one film, a white-washed protagonist but admittedly stunning visuals. I give the film credit for being out there and quirky with its visual style but I just wished there was a little more substance underneath it all (without far-fetched analysis). Scarlett Johansson is fine but I think another actress would have been better suited to the role. This film is going to have quite a niche appeal due to its pretty crazy visuals, complicated plot and necessary pre-research. This weekend, feel free to stay in your shells and binge on Netflix unless you are a big fan of the anime, Johansson or visual treats. 

59
/100

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