Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Directed by Rupert Sanders

Contains spoilers.

Animation seems to be a dying art in the modern world of cinema. Instead, the age of remaking animated films in live action is flourishing. Some are great; some are shit. Ghost in the Shell is right in the middle.

In the future, humans have pushed technology to the point that the line between man and machine is quickly disappearing. A massive robotics and A.I. firm, Hanka Precision Instruments, has successfully (for the first time), incorporated a human brain into a fully robotic body resulting in Major Mira Killian. The Major is a field agent for the Japanese Department of Defense's Section 9, a covert, anti-terrorism agency. While investigating the hacking and murder of several Hanka employees, the Major discovers an extremely dangerous hacker is behind the deaths to avenge being used and tossed aside in one of Hanka's experiments.

The very best thing about this movie are the visuals. Jess Hall's photography, combined with stellar production design, set design, and otherworldly computer graphics, makes Ghost in the Shell an art-house exploration of color, depth, framing, and so much more. The movie feels, at times, like a passionate spec-film from a genius up-and-comer who's spent years perfecting the look of this modern masterpiece of deliciously avant-garde, mainstream filmmaking.

Every scene is a deeply encapsulating feast for the senses. The color range compliments the rollercoaster plot, from bright, neon cityscapes to mysterious scenes in shadowy blacks and blues. And it's only strengthened by the fantastic soundtrack, an expert mix of emphatic lows and highs.

The production includes detailed attention to everything in the futuristic Japan, from the cars to the roads to the ads. The same can be said about the costume design, creating looks that recreate the feel of the source material exactly. Together, the gorgeous photography, soundtrack, set design, and production create one of the most intriguing atmospheres for a movie that I've seen in many years, a futuristic [but relatable] world almost as intense as Blade Runner. The culmination is like an odd mix of the clean lines of Tron: Legacy and the grit of Twelve Monkeys.

 

Overall, there are some resoundingly good ideas throughout the film. Many movies in a future setting utterly fail to display the increasingly global community but, whether by choice or good luck, every character in the movie is [at least] bilingual, seamlessly conversing in both Japanese and English or, at the very least, understanding both languages. Japan's shown as a visionary metropolis, sprawling with massive skyscrapers squished into the urban landscape amid winding highways. It feels like a very real advancement of modern urbanism.

Unfortunately, that's where the praise ends.

Scarlett Johannson never seems comfortable in her role, which would be great in the context of someone trying to figure out their role as a human soul stuck in an android body in the human world except that it's more like the unrepentant feeling as though she's acting. That's it, it feels like she's acting. She never really inhabits her character. Whether her constantly pained expression, like a permanently confused child, or her blocky body language that belies the fact that she was ever a human and caters increasingly towards her being an android, the Major constantly sticks out as if she doesn't belong in the setting. Add to this the lack of any chemistry with her costars and the result is a painfully plodding film. The best acting comes from the secondary characters, Major's coworkers, some of the bad guys, the hacker extraordinaire. It's a damn shame because this shamefully recycled story really needed good acting to save itself from itself.

The dialogue... the plot... the villains... the action... where to start, it's all so forgettably bad and plainly forgettable. The dialogue works out to be nothing more than simplistic, blocky, uncomfortable, and unnatural exposition. The plot is nothing short of Hollywood cliche. The villains never feel like anything more than plot fodder. The action starts to make the film feel like a would-be futuristic, android-centric, thrilling extravaganza until the film sputters out into a let down of a could-be sci-fi, suspense, mystery, action flick.

The film never feels like it actually fits in the world in which it inhabits. The characters all feel oddly out of place, telling each other every subtextual notion that enters their head. There's never any breathing room to let the film speak on it's own.

The story itself is nothing short of Hollywood drivel. I would say that there's never been another film with such a dumbed down, derogatory plot... but that would be a disservice to such terrible D-list hallmarks as SharknadoGhost in the Shell does manage to shove a romance, a revenge plot, and a suspense/thriller into, for all intents and purposes, a police drama. But that doesn't mean that any of these aspects are good. They all feel like afterthoughts: so the villain is a heavily-altered male, what if he were actually an android like the Major? Maybe he was a failed experiment? AND WHAT IF THEY WERE IN LOVE BEFORE THIS ALL HAPPENED!? It's as if an utterly unimaginative producer got to the writers before anyone could proofread the final, working script.

One of the mildly good things about the movie (for just a few, halting breaths) is Kuze, who has a halting darkness about him. His glitchy, halting mannerisms make him the darkest breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale and utterly forgettable story until the second half, where he becomes another cliched, noir stereotype.

It's a damn sad conclusion to reach. The climax of the film is little more than wannabe thought-provocation. The start has some intriguingly beautiful action but the end has a halting, nonsensical smorgasbord of randomly chosen, thriller elements in order to attempt an emotionally and psychologically deep finale.

The movie is extremely semi-accurate to the source material, but takes ridiculous liberties in it's storytelling. Ghost in the Shell could've created a mysterious exploration of the nature of reality, a la The Matrix, but instead we're left with a bastardization of the concept. Sanders and co. have taken a source that's both politically and psychologically intriguing and turned it into a half-assed shitstorm of love and barely-there action. The franchise was once a hallmark of Japanese anime but this movie's taken the notion for all of it's centerpoints in order to create a new, terrible franchise.

Dammit, Ghost in the Shell... you could've been so much more...

 
 

TL;DR: The story here is utter bullshit. Throughout the film I found myself in disbelief at the bad dialogue, the cookie-cutter story, and the lack of psychological extrapolation. The audience around me muttered throughout the "plot twists," if they can be called that... There's a lot of visual bewonderment to be had in Ghost in the Shell but that's about all the movie's good for. If you were expecting the psychological and personal turmoil of the anime then you'll be disappointed. Please don't make this a Hollywood franchise.

  • Acting – 10 / 20
  • Story – 5 / 20
  • Cinematography – 19 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 8 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Sci-Fi/Action/Mystery – 5 / 10
  • Other – 5 / 10
 

Grade F = 57 / 100