I should state this up front – I’m NOT a film critic. If you’re looking for an in-depth review of the Oscar-worthy performances, soundtrack, visuals and the thought provoking undertones of the film, or only like films that get nominated for awards, look elsewhere. I’m a fan of comics, anime and movies. Most films that win best picture, actor, etc., are a drag for me. I go to the cinema to escape reality for a couple of hours and if a movie can keep me entertained throughout and make me want to watch it more than once, I’ll probably give it a decent score.
I was really worried going into Ghost in the Shell. Hollywood hasn’t been kind to live-action anime adaptations (*cough* Dragonball Evolution *cough*) and the uproar regarding whitewashing with Scarlett Johansson as the lead of the film as enough to have my Spidey-senses tingling as I walked into the theater to an early screening. Being a fan of the original ground-breaking anime didn’t help things. Walking out of the theater I was pleasantly surprised. My friend, ThatOneCBMGuy, who hadn’t seen the original anime or any of the manga was blown away by the film and loved it. He said he even liked it better than Logan. For me they were two different types of movies that I couldn’t really compare the two, unless you wanted to talk about the visual effects and action sequences.
The big question is “How does it stack up against the original 1995 anime?” The answer – pretty well. The entire film really feels like an homage to the original and it even recreates some of the best scenes from the anime almost frame for frame. Needless to say, they were some of my favorite scenes in the movie and “no” the trailers haven’t shown every one of these. I’m not as familiar with the manga that spawned the anime, but it was obvious that parts of the film were pulled from the original content.
Note that some movie-goers, especially those not familiar with the anime, may be totally lost in the first 45 minutes. There’s a LOT going on and they don’t spend a lot of time explaining things, but as ThatOnceCBMGuy put it “I was totally confused until…” “and then it all clicked.” The anime was a bit like that as well. Rest assured it will make sense if you follow the trail of crumbs that director Rupert Sanders and crew leave.
You can tell from the numerous trailers, TV spots and videos out there that the movie is visually stunning. The futuristic Tokyo is very well done and is flooded with holograms, futuristic advertising and cyber-punk elements. At times it’s almost too much, but it seems to realistically capture Masamune Shirow’s vision of the city pretty faithfully. From digitized strippers to miniaturized MMA fights at the booth table of the bar, there’s a LOT going on in the background of just about every scene. The “Deep Dive” scene may well be one of my favorite scenes in the entire film. How exactly do you visualize someone entering a computer’s memory to investigate? I still don’t know how they did it, but I do know that the cast and crew absolutely nailed this scene.
As far as Scarlett Johansson and the rest of the cast, they did pretty well for a sci-fi/cyber-punk action film. Scarlett Johansson’s “Major” starts out fairly emotionless, but looking back on it, how is a human brain encased in a robotic body that’s almost indestructible supposed to act? When you can’t “feel” anything, wouldn’t you become a little lifeless? Her character livens up a bit as the film moves along and I think it really helped the scenes where there WAS emotion to be that much more powerful. I didn’t sob like a baby, but there were a few scenes that get to you, especially if you’re a parent.
Other noteworthy performances include Pilou Asbæk as Johansson/Major’s friend Batou. He was great in the anime and his character is great here as well. Takeshi Kitano who plays Aramaki, the head of Division 9, was awesome! You could tell from the very first scene that he appeared in that his character was going to kick some @$$, and he didn’t disappoint. He may have had two of the best scenes and lines of the entire cast.
The soundtrack and audio effects were pretty good. There were a few points in the film where I didn’t like the choices, but it wasn’t really the music, it was the fact that they decided to mute everything a bit that distracted me in one or two scenes. I’m sure the purpose was to make the scenes and action a bit more impactful, but it ended up throwing me off. I’m not sure many people will notice, or even care (ThatOneCBMGuy liked the fact that they turned it down), but I thought it was worth mentioning.
What about the whitewashing and Hollywood behind-the-scenes drama you ask? I didn’t care that much about it when it came up as an “issue” for the film, and I care even less after seeing it in the theaters. When I watch the original anime I don’t necessarily see an Asian character, especially with how light her skin is. The same thing with Batou and several other characters. Some characters are obviously Japanese, but many of them seem to be of questionably ethnicity. The fact that the film actually addresses why she looks the way she does and that they reveal her character’s history towards the end really made it a non-issue for me. I guess we’ll wait and see what the box office looks like in Japan to see if the controversy is real or if it’s just controversy for controversy sake.
I do have three complaints. The first is that the film could have been longer. There are a few scenes in the trailer that didn’t make their way to the theatrical release. I’m hoping that they’ll be included in the Blu-ray release. Ghost in the Shell could have been 15-20 minutes longer to explore the characters a bit more. At no point did it feel rushed, or chopped, but a little more would have been nice. My second is that I didn’t get to see it ion IMAX and after seeing it in 2D on a regular screen, I can only imagine the beauty of it on IMAX. My third and biggest complaint is that my popcorn was WAY too salty. I hope they address that in a sequel.
If you’re looking for a great sci-fi film with a female lead that kicks @$$, Ghost in the Shell is a must see. If you get a chance to see it on IMAX, I STRONGLY suggest doing so. My screening was 2D and I can only imagine how much better it’s going to look when I catch it on IMAX.
In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) 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. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, “The Ghost in the Shell.”
Ghost in the Shell stars Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, and is directed by Rupert Sanders.