Ghost in the Shell SPOILER-FREE Review
I have had moderate expectations for Ghost in the Shell. I never saw the original anime film, so my anticipation for this live action version has been based solely on the trailers, which have never truly sold me. They looked interesting enough, but I was never to the point where I was actually excited to go see the movie. And as the reviews have come out, I have heard mixed things about it. Some are saying it's a fantastic adaptation of the original anime movie, while others are saying it's all visuals with no substance. As I didn't have much to do this weekend, I decided to go see Ghost in the Shell for myself, and make up my own mind. I love Scarlett Johansson as an actress, and I am a big fan of science fiction. So I thought there would be enough in the movie to keep me entertained. However, aside from its outstanding visuals, Ghost in the Shell really has nothing to offer except just a string of scenes that's missing a story to connect it all.
In a futuristic Japan, the line between technology and humanity has been blurred. The Major (Johansson) is a cyber-enhanced soldier who works to take down a terrorist known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt).
I said this on Twitter and I'll say it again here: The title "Ghost in the Shell" is the perfect way to describe this movie. It has a fantastic looking exterior with a hollow interior. The film looks impeccable. All the production design is incredible looking. I don't know how much was adapted straight from the anime, and what is original to the movie, but it all looked fantastic. Everything from the costumes to the city shots of futuristic Japan was just incredible to watch. Again, I don't know how much is straight adaptation and what is original; I just know it all looked beautiful. The cinematography is also excellent. For a big budgeted film like this, it's easy for things such as pleasant-looking shots to be forgotten. So I appreciate Ghost in the Shell making beautiful cinematography a priority. The film also had a very interesting score. It's different from most typical movie scores, which I appreciated. In terms of the performances, Scarlett Johansson was fine as the lead in the movie. She's been better in other movies, however. I realize she is literally playing a robot, but her performance was overly robotic. There wasn't as much underlying nuance as there frankly should have been. The other supporting cast, such as Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, and Chin Han, were fine in their roles, but didn't add too much to the film.
The problem with this movie is that, while the visuals are all fantastic, it's absolutely hollow on the inside. There is nothing below the surface for this movie. It doesn't have any real emotion, nor does it deliver on any kind of profound philosophical ideas. It's just boring and bland. Every now and then there are some cool action scenes, but they are so fleeting and scarce that they don't accommodate for the rest of the movie. The twist that's spoiled by the trailers has been done a million times before, and it just adds nothing new. And there are so many elements of other movies in this film, such as The Matrix. Now, I know that the original anime came out before The Matrix, and The Matrix itself was in part inspired by the anime, but that doesn't change the fact that this 2017 movie feels like it lifted parts of The Matrix. It's the same thing that happened with the John Carter movie. Sure, the original books helped inspire movies like Star Wars, but when the film came out in 2012, it felt like it lifted a little too much from Star Wars. It's just what happens when you're adapting heavily-influential material; you're bound to have some comparisons made.
While everything looks visually stunning from a conceptual point of view, the CGI is hit or miss. Sometimes it looks incredible, and sometimes it looks like a video game cut scene. When we were watching the opening sequence as the credits played, the only way I knew for sure that the theater wasn't accidentally playing the original anime movie was because Johansson's name was in the credits. For a film that has a $100+ million dollar budget, you would think they could deliver on better special effects, or at least more consistent ones. The screenplay itself wasn't very clear as to what the sides were, and what the characters were fighting for. It felt like there was something I wasn't getting, that maybe fans of the original anime would innately understand. It kind of reminded me of something I said in my review for Beauty and the Beast (which you can read it here). I loved the original animated film as a kid, and when I watched this live action adaptation, I took a lot of my feelings and love for the original and interjected it into this version. But I wasn't sure that someone who had never seen the original animated film could appreciate it nor understand it as well as I did. Here, with Ghost in the Shell, I feel like I'm on the other end of it. Since I never saw the original anime, there are a lot of things that I don't get nor understand, that someone who has seen the original could probably appreciate and understand more.
Overall, I found Ghost in the Shell to be an incredible disappointment. It has some excellent cinematography and beautiful visuals, but that's where it ends. The story is incredibly shallow, and really has no meat to it. The sides aren't very clear, and the story itself just isn't very well developed. I loved the world director Rupert Sanders created, but I just don't think there was a compelling enough story told within it. Scarlett Johnasson was fine as the Major, but there wasn't a lot of nuance to her performance. The other actors were serviceable, but didn't add much to the movie overall. The CGI is also hit or miss. Some of it is incredible, while other parts look like it's from a video game. The movie also suffers from the same thing as Beauty and the Beast, where people who have not watched the original will not be able to appreciate it as much as those who have seen it. The whole time I was watching Ghost in the Shell, I felt like I was missing something that would help make all of it become clearer. In the end, while Ghost in the Shell has some cool visuals and a handful of fun action sequences, its shallow story and overall blandness unfortunately overshadows everything else.
What do you think? Have you seen Ghost in the Shell? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by: Nate
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