March 30, 2017.
I’m not too sure if you guys watch a lot of basketball. I don’t watch it religiously, but I do follow it and try to keep up with the standings. As of now, the Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA led by Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. You may know Kevin Durant as the sellout traitor who left the OKC Thunder and signed with the Warriors for the sole reason of “earning” himself a ring with an already stacked team. I’m sorry for this shitty Durant anecdote, and you’re probably wondering why I’m including it in my Ghost in the Shell review. There was a tweet Kevin Durant tweeted back in 2011 about Scarlett Johansson, and I am sure every heterosexual male can agree with Mr. Durant on his stance. The tweet was written as follows: “Scarlett johanneson I will drink ur bath water…#random.” Right you are Kevin; right you are.
Ghost in the Shell is directed by Rupert Sanders and stars Scarlett Johansson as The Major, a cyber-kinetic AI body inhabited with a human brain, hence the name “Ghost” in the “Shell”. As you probably know already, this movie is based on the anime/manga from the 90’s, and I am proud to report that this American adaptation held its own against the original anime. The plot follows The Major and her task force team, Section 9, as they hastily attempt to find a terrorist hellbent on exposing the Hanka AI technology corporation. Huge fans of the original anime will most likely be disappointed with this remake, as it only takes certain plot points from the original and brings us a more streamlined, watered-down version of the anime. This is completely ok with me because the movie (for the most part) still retains its thought-provoking nature, and makes it more accessible for casual moviegoers.
The visuals for this movie are insane. Sanders and cinematographer Jess Hall created a perfect neo-Tokyo with vibrant 3D advertisements and pulsating neon lights that bathe the streets like its dystopian inspired films such as Total Recall, and Blade Runner. The recreation of the famous “water-fight” scene was shot-for-shot perfected in regard to the original. Sanders and the production team really went all out creating the vertical, urban filled apartment complexes that inhabit Tokyo. I loved how this film retained all the classic scenes from the anime such as the opening “dive” sequence, and the underwater “serenity” lapse. The pacing in this film is remarkable as well. Instead of huge set-pieces, (save for the end) Sanders opts to film his action in tightly contained spaces that allow the movie to generate its lived-in feel. Whether it’s a Yakuza nightclub or a crack-house, Sanders makes the most of the settings and permits his film to fall in line with the cyberpunk-aesthetic of the original. The visuals of Ghost in the Shell are spectacular, but what the film lacks is a clear story direction, and falls in its own pretensions.
To reiterate, the story was okay as a streamlined version of the original. This is a fine approach to take with something as dense as the anime, but by going this route you inherently lose the ingenuity and intellect of the story. I really enjoyed the first half of the film. The wheels were turning, and the story was encapsulating. I felt like I was watching Blade Runner mixed with the original Ghost in the Shell. Not nearly as heavy in its borrowers themes, but a surface-level interpretation of both that still made for an intriguing film. Around halfway I started to lose interest. There’s a certain “twist” in the second act that fans of the original would easily see coming, and instead of doing something interesting with it, the filmmakers chose an elementary approach to executing it. This is where the film loses steam. The engines should be roaring; all cylinders should be firing, but the film just lazily moves along. It felt like I was watching a three-part episode arc of a shitty 00’s investigative show, and it all builds up to a whimpering climax. The climax was easily the most distracting thing in the movie. The set-piece is terrible, and the lighting is even worst. It chose to film in the darkest possible time, with none of the Tokyo enhanced neon light to guide it. It was the equivalent of all the AvP: Requiem action scenes where the lighting is so horrendous you can barely make out what is happening. The Major fights the final boss battle against a generic villain, with emotional stakes that should be apparent but are nowhere to be seen. This was my biggest complaint with the film, but let’s backtrack to Kevin Durant’s tweet about Scarlett Johansson, because she is amazing in this film.
ScarJo’s performance as The Major is her best ever, and is definitely Oscar worthy. She was the perfect incarnation of the anime character, and don’t give me any of that whitewashing nonsense. Her character’s brain is trapped in an AI body. The shell doesn’t have to be asian, it could have been any ethnicity. Beat for beat, emotion for emotion, she lays her character’s inner struggle between human and AI perfectly. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Distinguished facial movements and emotional reactions come from Johansson in every scene. Something I noticed while watching Ghost in the Shell is how similar The Major is to Johansson’s character, Charlotte, from Lost in Translation; a film that stars Johansson wandering across Tokyo trying to find herself. It’s pretty much the grounded reality version of Ghost in the Shell. Her performance is easily tied for my favorite of the year alongside Jackman as Logan. Pilou Asbaek was also terrific as The Major’s crime-force partner, Batou. He plays Batou very similar to the anime Batou; badass with a hidden soft side to him (he feeds stray dogs for example). Takeshi Kitano was quiet and menacing as Section 9’s leader, Armaki, as well. The performances were terrific in Ghost in the Shell, with Johansson being the clear stand out.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell was a fine film. I really thought more about everything after walking out of the theatre, and the more I think about it the more I like it. It’s not amazing, and it doesn’t come close to touching the original, but as a remake it’s solid. I was praying this was going to be the movie of my dreams, but the end product was enough to answer my prayers. The second half may not be as compelling as the first, but with eye-popping visuals, beautiful production design, and an astounding central performance from Scarlett Johansson, Ghost in the Shell is a fun remake. If only the story could have handled the weight of the spectacle…