Posted on Thursday, March 30th, 2017 by Jack Giroux
Ghost in the Shell may come up short on humanity, but the early reviews suggest director Rupert Sanders‘ live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii‘s 1995 manga adaptation is satisfying eye candy. Some reviews note that the film features another exceptional performance from Scarlett Johansson, although some of the movie’s critics write that the script holds her back a little. Sanders’ second feature may lack a heart and a sturdy third act, but by most accounts, it overcomes some of its problems with style.
Now, let’s take a look at the reviews themselves.
Sanders’ film walks the line between familiar and derivative. The trailers made that obvious from the beginning, but critics say this version of Ghost in the Shell frequently calls to mind Blade Runner and many other sci-fi classics. The consensus: the similarities, albeit glaring, aren’t too much of an issue.
Here’s the early buzz for Ghost in the Shell, which, for those unfamiliar with the material, is about the Major (Johansson), a special ops human-cyborg, discovering the truth about her past.
The film is not without its superficial pleasures, and non-devotees might soak up some of its stimuli for future repurposing as profile photos, or as the backdrop to a club night. Sanders is becoming increasingly adept at framing the kind of images any 14-year-old would deem cool (Scar-Jo in slo-mo, erupting through plate glass in latex!), which should ensure smooth progress in the modern movie business. Yet whatever philosophical nuggets were lurking amid Oshii’s tangled plotting, they surely merited closer consideration by a filmmaker who wasn’t trading in gloss, and doesn’t merely regard human beings as elements of design.
If the “ghost” of anime classic Ghost in the Shell refers to the soul looming inside of its killer female cyborg, then this live-action reboot from director Rupert Sanders really only leaves us the shell: a heavily computer-generated enterprise with more body than brains, more visuals than ideas, as if the original movie’s hard drive had been wiped clean of all that was dark, poetic and mystifying.
Suffice it to say that writers Jamie Ross, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger have collectively distinguished the new film from its predecessors with a fleshier focus on backstory that yields surprising emotional rewards amid the onslaught of eye candy. Raven-bobbed and brandishing a still-waters stare, Johansson by now has form in bringing humanity to not-quite-human characters. As the casting discussion rages on, it’s hard to deny that her Major fuses her most internalized and most ass-kicking modes of performance to ideal effect.
Filler shots of bustling cityscapes feel cribbed from Blade Runner and Windows 95 screensavers. Gigantic female effigies, projected as skyscraper-sized holograms, beam with eerie smiles and their presence is somehow meant to cut through all the blue-grey futuro bleakness. But like so much in the film, this ends up being nothing more than decoration, a hint towards the kernel of an idea.
Director Rupert Sanders is an adept world-(re)builder and visualist, as proven by his debut Snow White & The Huntsman, which at least looked great. His reconstruction of the original’s key set-pieces, including the urban lagoon slugfest with an invisible Major, and the climactic showdown with a ‘Spider Tank’ (think ED-209 crossed with a Starship Troopers Tanker Bug), is impressive.
Its one arguable improvement — apart from the random inclusion of Juliette Binoche, slipping actual humanity into this computerized product, plus Takeshi Kitano, who’s so badass he’s the only one still speaking Japanese — is also the thing that’s made it a controversy-magnet. As our bot-hero, Johansson is so steely and charismatic you can periodically forget that this is yet another case of Hollywood “white-washing.” In a way, Johansson is even perfectly cast: It re-confirms that she is, after “Her,” “Under the Skin” and “Lucy,” the movies’ reigning queen of humanoids and post-human characters. Of course, in another way, she’s simply the wrong person for the job.
Marshaling the very latest in digital photography, stereoscopic imaging and cutting-edge effects, “Ghost in the Shell” is a technical knockout, a here-and-now valentine to what design wizardry Hollywood can pull off in 2017. At the same time, it does so in service of a tired tale full of repurposed visual tricks, storytelling clichés and big-studio concessions, to the extent that the film offers a sleek modern polish to a story that feels about 15 years too late.
As the dour trailers indicated, Ghost in the Shell isn’t a movie with much laughs or levity. Most of the fun apparently derives from the worldbuilding and the action, which appear to be top-notch based on the film’s first five minutes. We’ll see if that’s the case this weekend.
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