Ghost in the Shell review – So little of the original film’s personality

Paul Klein

This review won’t be going on at length about the whitewashing, though elements will come up because there’s only so much you can take before you go mad. And, I did write an article about it, go read that. So let’s begin.

If you’ve not seen the original Ghost in the Shell, which is entirely possible, the story concerns a future in which a lot of people are actually brains placed into robotic bodies. One such, The Major, is tasked with hunting down terrorists, but when someone comes along who holds the secret to her past, she comes to question everything she thinks she knows.

It would be unfair for us to review this movie without first telling you that it’s another movie cobbled together from other movies. In fact, there is so little of the original film’s personality that it’s not even worth comparing them. Director Rupert Sanders, who’s only previous film is the stylish but boring Snow White and the Huntsman, brings all of that production’s style to this film, though unfortunately he’s stopped off in an 80s movie shop and stockpiled the cliches. Sanders might have a decent career in his future, he might even make something truly brilliant, but based on his drab fairytale and his drab cyberpunk thriller it’s not looking promising.

The cyberpunk inflected future is classic 80s ideas of the future: big billboards that project holograms of products, strange neon drenched nightclubs, people hawking their bodybits for cash in the open, clinical industry-lead buildings, sinister CEOs with Japanese inflections, and robots looking like humans looking like robots.

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Now, this isn’t an entirely bad thing, those sort of retro-futuristic ideas are usually visually arresting, and there’s a reason why Brad Bird likes the 50s version of the future which is all jet power and art deco; it looks great. Similarly, Sanders clearly loves his 80s sci-fi cinema because everything here screams it. The city looks like the dystopian Los Angeles seen in Blade Runner, even down to some of the adverts being the same, and some rain-drenched scenes carry clear echoes of Rick Dekkard’s adventures.

The over saturation of advertising, and the big business changing people with machines is so clearly ripped from Robocop that the fact that Peter Weller doesn’t show up is jarring. The core themes of the film chime with both Blade Runner and RoboCop in that it’s about what makes a human a human, and questions whether or not a machine has a soul. Not to mention that the evil terrorist robo-human type Kuse, played by Michael Carmen Pitt, is clearly angry with the system, prone to giving speeches and has strangely otherworldly hair, appearing to be the son of Roy Batty.

But this isn’t the fault of the film, and the fact that in the years following the original many films have ripped it off – The Wachowskis have made a career of it, The Matrix, Sense8, Speed Racer – but going in, if you’re not going to do something radical then why bother?

On the plus side, Michael Carmen Pitt is spine chilling as the villain, his body being mainly CGI looking like Alicia Vikander’s Ava from Ex Machina, but his voice being a cool, calculating cross being Siri and Hal 9000. His monologue to Scarlett Johansson’s Major is the film’s best scene and barely anything happens in it.

Of course Johansson herself (controversy aside), can do wonders. She’s such a talented actresses that this film doesn’t deserve her. If this film is a success, as it might well be, then it only means that Johansson is long overdue her Black Widow film, with Lucy and this proving it. Even if she reprises some of the themes shown in some of her better work, as in Under the Skin, Lost in Translation or Ghost World.

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Around those two the cast is all fine, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano he of Castle fame and being one of the sternest looking men in the world (an asian Tommy Lee Jones if you will), is great, and it’s nice that he doesn’t speak English in the film. While Chin Han is wasted, Juliette Binoche is underused, and most other people don’t do much.

Except, that is, for Pilou Asbaek best known for Borgen and Game of Thrones , here playing The Major’s partner Batou, who with his strange eyes and UltraVox hair looks like a dead ringer for Marvel’s Cable (hint hint guys), and he actually manages to steal the whole thing with his lumbering, hulking role.

But the real problem with the film, apart from it’s white washing, rip-off tendencies is how old fashioned it seems. Everyone looks like they’ve been dressed in the 80s. The Major and Batou walk around in combat pants, boots and what appear to be bomber jackets or Harringtons, not to mention both of their hair styles resemble people who look like they’d be more at home in This is England or Green Room (Johansson’s hair cut is definitely Vicky McClure’s Lol). They also bomb around town in what looks like a DeLorean from Back to the Future.

It becomes a game: guess which movie they’re ripping off next. Even the visually arresting moments, like people melting into pixels, loses something because it makes no sense; no one explains how a brain can’t sit in a robot, but everyone can dissolve into nothingness no problem.

For all it’s bluster, however, it’s cool when invisible Major beats a guy to a pulp in a puddle, or the sinister spider-Geisha, but these moments are both spoiled in the trailer, leaving nothing to really get excited about. Why watch a second rate Blade Runner rip-off when there’s a proper sequel to the film coming out later this year? Why watch a not-quite-Black Widow movie when we could have had one already?  Why go near a cult classic when the track record for this behaviour, as with J-Horror, Alan Moore graphic Novels, and Computer Games, has only ever been a big steaming turd?

You want thoughtful science fiction? You want an engaging female? You want direction that lifts the genre to art? Arrival just came out on DVD and Blu Ray, go watch that. If you want to watch a cyberpunk action thriller about a robotic woman grappling with being part machine, part human, then go buy the original, because this film is an utter snore fest.

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