Ghost in the Shell (2017) Movie Review: Neon Confusion
I originally wanted to get this up for you guys Friday morning, but that went out the window when I got home from the theater Thursday night and found myself in need of a drink while I ruminated on exactly how to frame my disappointment. Needless to say, the rum didn’t quite help the way that I thought it would. So here I am now, with an extra couple of days of thinking about this neon soaked frustration of a film. To say that Ghost in the Shell (2017) is an adaptation of the original anime from 1995 would be lying. It’s not, so much as it is kind of pulling bits and pieces from the entire franchise’s history in a muddled and, ultimately, uninteresting affair.
Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) directs his second ever feature film here, from a script that has passed through the hands of several writers, only three of which are getting credit. This definitely feels like a project that’s been cobbled together from the efforts of several people with different ideas over the years. Rupert does a decent job of minimizing some of that feel, but it’s still apparent, and the big hand of the studio is easily detectable. The pacing is a bit weird here, as well, as the movie is just a shade under two hours, but seems to feel about half an hour longer than it is.
As for the writing, I’m not really sure what to say, other than: What the fuck? I’m not quite sure why Jamie Ross, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger made the decision to go the route that they did. Instead of the simple live action adaptation that was expected, we’re given a kind of reboot for the purposes of live action, while pulling characters and story lines from the franchise’s other properties, like Stand Alone Complex. This wouldn’t really have been a problem if they hadn’t decided to keep every major action set piece from the 1995 anime and drop them into this story. This ended up feeling like fan service gone wrong. Or maybe they felt that there weren’t enough fans outside of the 1995 film that would know what this was without them. Either way, they served as a frustrating reminder that I had a much better version of this on bluray at home.
The plot is fairly bland and by the numbers, with there being no mystery as everything is fairly predictable. The script’s biggest failure, though, is the way it approaches the question of what it means to be human and be alive – especially in a society where cybernetic augments are everywhere, and with the Major being little more than a brain hardwired into a fully cybernetic body. Films like Blade Runner and Ex Machina tackle this question better and in a more thought provoking way. And this discussion is even happening in the real world today by people like Sam Harris, who’s a neuroscientist, and Stuart Russel, who’s a computer scientist, so there’s no reason for this film to dredge the depths of those philosophical waters so shallowly.
Jess Hall does an excellent job as cinematographer in bringing to life in all its neon glory the world Ghost in the Shell; but while it was cool to see the cyberpunk world brought to the big screen that way, too much of it tended to be showcased to the point where all the neon and skyscraper-high holograms just felt oppressive. It was clear that this was what they were given the majority of the money in their budget for, so they probably didn’t want to waste an opportunity. I was impressed with it all initially, but the more they showed, the more it just looked like neon vomit.
As for the acting, everyone actually does a great job – with the exception of our lead. I know Scarlett Johansson can act, but her portrayal of Major Mira Killian is absolutely wooden. I think you have to question your performance choice when you make Keanu Reeves look more charismatic by comparison. She does, however, bring her A-game when it comes to the action.
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano brings a hard-ass personality to Chief Daisuke Aramaki. Pilou Asbaek is Batou, Major’s partner closest friend in Section 9. If you notice from the trailers, you’ll see that he gets a bit of a character arc of his own, which he plays out well. Juliette Binoche plays Dr. Oulet, the maternalistic scientist responsible for designing the Major’s body and caring for her when she’s damaged. She is also an employee of a man named Cutter, played by Peter Ferdinando, who is the seedy businessman from Hanka Robotics, the company that made the Major’s body. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo of Togusa, played by Chin Han. And finally, there’s Michael Pitt as the shadowy Kuze, the terrorist that the Major and Section 9 are hunting down.
All in all, I’d say to give this one a pass. The only people I see liking this movie are the same ones that liked Assassin’s Creed, as for some reason I get echos of that here. For fans of the franchise, and especially the original anime, that are looking forward to seeing an awesome live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, this film will have them walk away confused and disappointed. And even for those movie goers who aren’t fans of the franchise, they’d be better served by watching Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 classic, as it has all of the cinematic artistry and engaging story that this one lacks.