Can we all put the Ghost in the Shell “whitewashing” controversy behind us now? It’s kind of sad to think that one of the reasons why the Hollywood adaption got a lot of publicity was because Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures hired Scarlett Johannson to play the lead role. Fans went bonkers that the lead of the film wasn’t an Asian woman instead of concentrating on the fact that their favorite anime was actually being made into a Hollywood movie. Shouldn’t they be more worried that they’ll screw it up despite having a caliber actress like Scarlett Johannson bringing the character to life?
Well, I did get to watch the entire thing and here’s my SPOILER FREE review of the live action Ghost in the Shell movie.
First, I have to be upfront that I had my concerns about this film. I watched the original 1995 anime film and, while I didn’t appreciate it during my younger days, my adult self loved it. I now love the philosophical talk and how it’s much more intelligent than your normal film. Ghost in the Shell is an anime that tries to make you think. And, based on the trailer, I was worried that Hollywood would go a different route and dumb it it down for mainstream audience. I was curious how they would handle the internal struggle Mokoto Kusanagi had within her. I even wrote an entire post about it.
For this review, however, I decided to try to be as unbiased as possible. I’ll try to review the Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell on its own merits without comparing it to the original anime or the other films/shows in the franchise that stars Mokoto Kusanagi and the rest of Section 9. I wanted to be as objective as possible for this review. I made the decision to do this because I just had a feeling there would be no way the Hollywood version could be as good as the original anime classic, which does hold up rather strongly even today.
Ghost in the Shell is set in the near future where cybernetics and robotic implants have become commonplace. A hacker named Kuze starts hacking into and killing people with unknown motives. The Major and Task Force Section 9 is assigned to hunt down and capture the terrorist before he strikes again.
Visually, the Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell is stunning. It’s definitely a cyberpunk look as what the world could possibly look like and it just works. There’s definitely a feeling of a really lived in world where the sky is littered with moving billboards and flashy neon. The CGI does a great job in melding with the practical effects in a way that you don’t really notice them and they never become a distraction. Some of the costumes do look a little hokey at times. Batou’s eye implants actually look like little camera lenses which, while practical and realistic looking, look really weird in this futuristic world. And, while Scalett Johannson does fill in a skintight thermoptic outfit really well, it still looks rather bland.
The action scenes is, thankfully, far from bland. They do come in short bursts but they are incredibly exciting because of the excellent stunt work. Like the overall aesthetic look of the film, the action scenes are a sight to behold. The action scenes just flow together in a seamless choreographed dance of beauty. A lot of them work because of Scarlett Johannson’s performance throughout the aforementioned battle scenes.
Speaking of Scarlett Johannson, I actually enjoyed her performance as The Major. She’s technically the titular “ghost in the shell” in the film as her entire body is fully cybernetic; only her brain is human. She’s a talented actress and it looks like she gave it her all here as well. She even added a lot of neat little touches like her rather stiff and robotic walk, which makes her kind of look like she just climbed out of the “uncanny valley.” This would normally be a bad thing but it definitely works here as the character isn’t quite sure if she’s still human because of her unique circumstances.
Unfortunately, while ScarJo’s rather robotic performance suits The Major’s character, the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. While not exactly bad, their acting can’t actually be called good either. I was really disappointed with Pilou Asbaek’s portrayal of Batou. The biggest problem with the film is the cast doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with each other. Not only that, besides Chief Arakawa, the rest of Section 9’s squad members barely have anything to do. They’re just introduced near the start of the movie and then you don’t really see them anymore until maybe close to the end of the film.
The biggest problem of the Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell is actually the story. The first half of the film is genuinely good as the mystery behind Kuze’s motivations and how he goes about assassinating people is interesting. However, once the second half of the film gets started, things start to fall apart. The story starts to lose steam and becomes a textbook Hollywood film. The film just drastically switches gears and it starts to feel like a totally different film from what they were showing initially. It’s almost like the writer didn’t know what to do with the story or the Hollywood producers banking Ghost in the Shell stepped in and just changed the entire feel of the film.
Taken on its own, the new live-action Ghost in the Shell is just your average, run-of-the-mill Hollywood sci-fi movie. The visuals and the special effects are definitely the highlight of the film.The action sequences are on-point, well choreographed and exhilarating. Scarlett Johannson’s performance is definitely of note. With that in mind, I can’t really recommend the film based solely on those items. The average movie goer may be fooled into thinking that the film is something special because of the visuals and the legitimately great first half. However, fans who are expecting more or a deeper experience will feel the sting of disappointment.
Have you seen the latest Ghost in the Shell? Better yet, have you seen the original 1995 film and how do you think the new movie stacks up? Let me know in the comments section below!