Final Rating: Rating: 6/10
Directed by That Guy Who Cheated On His Wife With Kristen Stewart (Rupert Sanders).
Written by Two Dudes With Movies You Haven’t Heard of (Jamie Moss and William Wheeler), and The Guy Who Adapted The Ring and Wrote A Bunch Of Transformers Movies (Ehren Kruger).
Starring The Woman Who Really Wants Her Own Marvel Superhero Movie (Scarlett Johansson).
‘Ghost in the Shell’ is dumb and thinks you’re dumb too. The first red flag comes in the form of a text explanation of the state of the world, then goes on to reiterate it all through footage and dialogue anyway. They keep saying ‘Ghost’ instead of ‘Soul’ and ‘Shell’ instead of ‘Body’ because they really want the audience to understand the title of the film.
I wasn’t going to talk about the whitewashing of this film in my review, because I thought other, more qualified voices would be doing that. However, the whole plot of the movie is Major Mira Killian finding out that she was born Motoko Kusanagi and had her Japanese brain put into a Scarlett Johansson body. There is no way around talking about that elephant in the room.
Spoiler alert for ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and ‘Get Out’: The big twist reveal in Ghost in the Shell reminded me of another movie that came out this year. In Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’, the twist is that white people have been kidnapping black people and transplanting their brains into black bodies for whatever racist reason (some want to look cooler, some want to be better at sports, some claim not to see race and just want to steal a body to gain back their sight.) Whereas ‘Get Out’ makes the racial implications of transplanting the mind of one race into the body of another the meat of its story and societal commentary, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ doesn’t bring race into it at all. It’s not making any sort of statement, it’s trying to justify its existence for two hours. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ had a chance to make a meta commentary about how they just wouldn’t be able to fund a military project without having a white face for the cyborg, rather than a Japanese one.
What is bizarre about it all to me is that the movie didn’t announce any reshoots once criticism came to a head, thus the public outcry must have been foreseen and planned for. Why would you spend an entire movie saying, “Yeah, we know we whitewashed her, but it’s actually part of the story!”, when you could just not whitewash her and tell a different story?
The villains of the story are tech giant Hanka Corporation, and there’s a few cautionary lines about how technology destroys human individuality. Motoko was a revolutionary living in the slums and speaking out about cybernetic enhancements and augmentations which led to her arrest and transformation into a tool for the machine she fought against. Does the story dwell on this or even meditate on the implications? No, not really (like, they took Sophie Scholl and turned her into Robocop and nothing else is said about it). Our antagonist, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), doesn’t talk about her inciting riots or changing public attitudes or why he would take a revolutionary and then just use her for a special forces unit. But why? He says she’s a weapon, but he never uses her to kill people? Major shows sorrow at losing her friends and family, rage at the man who ‘killed’ her, but never does she show anything resembling the personality of the rebellious teenager.
Motoko Kusanagi of the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ anime is a stoic character. The character Scarlett Johansson plays is very true to this character, but her version of the character does not develop with the story she is given. She becomes warmer than her cold introduction as the film progresses, but not in the way a woman who had her life and memories stripped away and then returned to her would. She feeds dogs because Batou gets her to feed dogs, and she deep sea dives because that’s a cool scene in the anime and they wanted to include it. She hugs her mother at the end and tells her she won’t have to visit her grave anymore. There’s no strong emotional impact. We as the audience haven’t connected enough to Motoko or seen her react enough to her situation for this to really mean anything. It’s a shame, because that could have been the emotional core of the film, but we felt more at the death of Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Ouelet than at Motoko reuniting with her mother.
The film ends with Mira nee Motoko identifying herself only as Major. This comes off like she doesn’t claim either of her old lives and chooses to live as the Major of Section 9, and that’s fine, but if the story arc could show some agency towards that it would be great.
“It would be less offensive and stupid if it wasn’t based off a beloved source material” is something I say often of this sort of film, and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is no exception to that rule.
However, it does shine in a few areas that make it a fun experience more than a complete write off. The actors are committed to disappearing into their roles. The strongest character interactions in the film are still those between Major and Batou (Pilou Asbæk), who exist as foils here as they do in the anime. Batou is warm and human, Major is cold and machine. Due to the events of the film, they are pushed to see things more from each other’s point of view, Batou gets cybernetic eyes due to losing his in an explosion, and Major gets a human identity. The actors do play off their friendly antagonism well. The biggest laugh the movie had was Major flipping Batou off and asking how many fingers she was holding up.
The real heroes I want to take a moment to appreciate are the design, action, and the effects teams. The film is gorgeous and cohesive from start to finish. It brings to life the visions of a cyberpunk world first shown in the 1995 ‘Ghost in the Shell’ film.(Fun side note: All of the car models are from that era and it makes the world look just that more fleshed out.) It visually lifts some of the more famous scenes of previous iterations and remakes them almost shot for shot. Those in charge of the visuals of this film clearly are fans of the series and made their contributions with passion and heart. There was more than one sequence that made me go, “Wow, that looks so cool.” Which is more than I can say for a lot of films. It couldn’t have been easy adapting so many designs and making them shine for realism, but very little of the CGI looked out of place.
As for the action, it was amazing to watch action sequences and actually know what was happening. Characters were in frame? The camera wasn’t shaking? It wasn’t filled with visual noise? Perish the thought. It blows my mind that this is some*thing I have to praise now, since hard to comprehend fight sequences have become the norm.
Overall, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a dumb film with not a lot to say. Should you go see it? Depends, do you have two hours to watch a mindless, beautiful detective story with Blade Runner influences? Then, yeah, go see it. Are you looking for a film with a little more substance? Then, no, don’t. Do you wanna be “woke” enough to debate it on the internet? Pay for another film.
Would I watch it again? Yeah. But, I also unironically enjoy Sucker Punch, so these kinds of goofy romps are my popcorn.