» Blog Archive Review: Ghost in the Shell's Final Verdict *Spoiler Free* -
Evan Conway Anime, Movies, News, Reviews

Ghost in the ShellLet’s ignore the months and months of controversy surrounding this movie for a few minutes. Just hear me out, because the moment you start thinking and discussing said controversy, then you’re going to not be able to judge Ghost in the Shell for what the movie actually is. It’s almost too simple, actually. Yet here we are with Ghost in the Shell releasing today and we can decide for ourselves if this venture into this Neo Tokyo was worth the investment.

I have a very neutral standpoint on the original Ghost in the Shell. When I was younger, I didn’t have the patience for the philosophy the film so heavily relies on, seeing as I thought anime in general was supposed to be action heavy and not make me think extensively. As I grew older, I revisited the film and appreciated it, seeing that it influenced the sci-fi genre extensively.  As it paved the way for films like The Matrix and Ex Machina to exist, the shockwave it has sent through sci-fi culture is astounding. The idea of one’s inner self and not the flesh or metal casing containing one’s consciousness being the deciding factor in one’s humanity has been told in many different ways over the years and is still being touched upon today. With anime being interpreted by American film studios over the years being a colossal failure (Dragonball: Evolution) it was with understanding that Ghost in the Shell could very easily end up nothing more than stylized, disposable trash.

ghost in the shell 2It’s not a train wreck, but Ghost in the Shell’s American adaptation never amounts to being anything more than being a good movie. On a technical standpoint, the film is excellent and tasteful in its heavy use of CGI, while the acting and story and usage of the source material range from passable to corny in varying degrees. Ghost in the Shell, essentially, serves as an entry level version of the franchise for the common American audience, all the while featuring some of the philosophy from the original. Yet, leaving the audience nothing to ponder once the credits roll, it doesn’t encourage the audience to think beyond what they’re saying on screen.

The film follows The Major (Scarlett Johansson) and Batou (Pilou Asbæk) as they are tasked with finding criminals in their task force, Section 9. Major, on a particular case, starts to question herself and the Hanka corporation that they operate under, all the while a criminal at large seeks to destroy Hanka as well. Both Johansson and Asbæk have a chemistry that seems to be identical to the characters they portray. The chemistry between the two, while I would have liked to have seen more of it, is enjoyable and they feed off of one another, whether it be the brief combat scenes together or them sharing a sympathetic and human moment feeding street dogs. It’s undoubtedly human and the fact that their relationship nevers leaves the status of “work partners” is refreshing.

ghost in the shell 5Unfortunately while there are some other good performances, most of the characters end up getting sidelined while less developed actors seem to be eating up more screen time. Michael Pitt plays the criminal in which the Major is looking for, and when he finally is given proper screen time, he seems to be struggling one moment while the next he’ll be on point and giving it his best. Perhaps this flaw comes with a lack of direction, but the end result shows moments of a solid character in there, lost in inconsistency. Peter Ferdinado also stumbles as an antagonistic figure in the Hanka corporation, often coming across as the villain of the week on Law and Order and not the intimidating one he should be, given his place of power.

Yet the film makes these shortcomings bearable with excellent technical work all around. Some creative camera angles give a unique perspective as Major and Batou lead their team into a building, taking long shots from the roof as the tiny figures on screen move about and operate. There are instances of symmetry and subtlety in the cinematography, often done to great use, but it all comes together nicely with the CGI work at play. WETA digital have done an incredible job at capturing this futuristic Tokyo, giving the city a true sense of life as characters walk down streets or drive around from plot-point to plot-point.

ghost in the shell 4The true star, among all of this, is the perfect soundtrack by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe. Perhaps what I retained most from the original film was the haunting, dynamic soundtrack that lends an extensive amount of atmosphere to a world bustling with color and life. Both composers have gone the route of an original soundtrack here, but it feels very much in line with the original. As the Major questions her humanity, even amidst the company of others or being in the city with people all around her, you get the true sense of emptiness she’s struggling with and how alone she feels. This is exactly what soundtracks should do, and because of it I might actually end up buying the physical release. (And yes, “Making of a Cyborg” from the original film makes an appearance in the credits)

Even with the technical aspects working perfectly, the writing is what ultimately weighs the movie down and prevents it from being anything more than “good.” The philosophy present in the first is, essentially, made to be more personal for the Major as she searches to find herself and her humanity, yet streamlined so the casual audience doesn’t zone out of it when they start dishing it out.

The writing, at least, pays a tremendous amount of respect to the original film, often taking key moments and weaving them into the runtime. You get everything from the famous opening dive off the building, the beatdown the Major dishes out on the water, Batou and herself on the boat, and a third act that anyone who has watched the original should see coming. It’s not telling an entirely new story, but interpreting it in a different way, all the while paying respects to the film’s arguably most noteworthy and iconic moments. It, ultimately, does feel like Ghost in the Shell, albeit entry level for most.

Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in theaters March 31, 2017.

 

The film suffers from pacing issues in its third act, as well. Feeling rushed without that emotional payoff, the climactic scene in the movie has everything that should be present in a movie like this. However, it fails to conjure the emotion it seems so hard to try to force out of you, simply because the film just needs a bit more character development. At 100 or so minutes, Ghost in the Shell wouldn’t have hurt to push towards the two hour point, possibly adding more character development and perhaps building the world and lore up a bit more. There’s a passable amount present, but more couldn’t have been a bad thing.

Ghost in the Shell could have been a colossal failure, much like anime-adaptations have before it. There’s a lot of that works here, but ultimately its faults weigh it down being somewhere between “fine” and “good.” When all’s said and done, however, Ghost in the Shell is at least a love letter to the original, with America saying “Let’s see what we can try for ourselves.” You have to at least give it credit for not bastardizing it.

Ghost in the Shell is playing everywhere now.

 

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