Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ghost in the Shell


Directed by Rupert Sanders.
2017. Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Scarlett Johansson
Pilou Asbæk
Juliette Binoche
Takeshi Kitano
Michael Pitt
Chin Han
Peter Ferdinando
Lasarus Ratuere
Kaori Momoi

In a future where most people have some sort of cybernetic enhancement, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is still a unique being. She's the science project of some super secret government organization, made up of a mechanical body, or shell, that has been integrated with a human brain, or ghost. As super secret government organizations are wont to do, they use her as a soldier in the war against terrorism. Eventually, she finds herself battling a new type of terrorist, one who can hack into people's minds.

The elephant in the room is the whitewashing on display. In case you didn't know, this is based on a Japanese manga which spawned a vast and popular empire consisting of animated movies, television series, and video games. Yet, when Hollywood got their hands on it, they inevitably cast a white person in the lead. I'm actually a big fan of ScarJo's, and I know her name carries some box-office clout, but would it have killed them to cast a Japanese woman? I mean, the movie is set in Japan for crying out loud! Besides, there's been plenty of research showing casting people who aren't white as your lead character is not a financial death knell. The real key is how good you make your movie. Well, let's get into that.

At its core, the story is pretty simple. Our hero is chasing an elusive and powerful villain. Along the way, she goes through lots of introspection. The problem is she doesn't remember what it was like before she became Major. Therefore, her pursuit of the truth about her existence is intertwined with that of the bad guy. Things get a bit muddled as the screenplay constantly tries throwing us off the scent. One can get lost if you allow yourself to get caught up in all the twists and turns thrown at you. If so, stay the course. It's all coming together exactly like you think it will. Unfortunately, after all the detours we take to get there, we're like to be underwhelmed by the big reveal the film wants us to be astounded by. Instead of causing our jaws to drop, it will like incite our eyes to roll because we could've gotten to this point in a much more efficient manner. Another reason the story might fail to excite is that if you're a viewer of a certain age, or even if you saw a certain remake from a couple of years ago, this will feel all too familiar to you. It's basically Robocop meets Blade Runner. This might not be so bad, but instead of borrowing from and building on them, it pretty much just fuses the two stories.


The strength of this movie, however, isn't in its script. It's in the visuals. This is where taking inspiration from Blade Runner pays off. Ghost in the Shell is a spectacular looking movie. Nearly every frame of this thing has something in which to marvel. It's a beautiful yet unsettling look at what the future may look like. This goes for man and machine alike. It also goes for static scenery and action, alike. A ton of credit should go to Johansson for being a more than capable action hero. Still, the visual effects team did a fantastic job of seamlessly integrating her and the other actors into the world they created. And there is a ton of action. All of it is well done and exciting. Lots of thought was put into what was going on the screen and it shows. I could probably go on for hours gushing about how gorgeous this movie is, Suffice it to say, it keeps the eyes dancing.

Overall, Ghost in the Shell isn't a bad movie. It's action-packed, moves at a pretty good clip and is dazzling to look at. These things don't entirely make up for the lackluster script, but they do a pretty good job. It's not a great movie, but as early summer releases go, it probably should've have raked in more than the forty million dollars it did the U.S. domestically (against a budget of $110 million). By comparison, 2016's dreadful Independence Day: Resurgence took in over $100 million in the U.S., alone. So, what's the issue? Sadly, I think it comes back to its casting choice. The announcement of Johansson in the lead role was met with tons of backlash from fans of the manga and the anime. They lamented the casting of a white actress in a role created by Japanese people with a Japanese lead and a ton of financial success as just that. In today's social climate that's enough to cause some people, even white people, not to go see a movie. This doesn't even take into account how faithful the film is or isn't to its source material in terms of its story. Despite how popular I know it is, I can't say because I haven't seen it. I do know this one was met with derision by fanboys and fangirls. We end up with a movie that cast a white person in the lead, presumably to maximize box-office potential only to have that very thing derail it. A film that's pretty good, if clearly derivative of better movies, has become a cinematic pariah.

14 comments:

  1. It's very likely that it won't be shown on TV since I don't have ePIX but if it is available at my library. I'll watch it just for Scar-Jo alone as I am a fan though I agree with you on the whitewashing thing.

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    1. It'll come on something you have at some point. The library is a great resource, too.

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  2. Totally agree that on the level of pure visuals alone, this is a STELLAR movie. But on nearly every other level, it fails. I actually enjoyed it more than I didn't, but I could not roll my eyes hard enough when they *PSEUDO-SPOILER* turned the white-washing into a meta-theme late in the movie. Utterly absurd and ridiculous. Still, ScarJo's pretty good and the visuals are a total WOW. I'm glad I saw it in a theater.

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    1. It's definitely a sight to behold even if the rest of it falls down.

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  3. What bothered me the most about this movie was that it thought it was more philosophical than it actually was. It didn't do anything with the themes it tried to establish, which is a shame because this had the potential to be a decently thought provoking movie. Everything else I thought was pretty good, particularly the visuals like you mentioned. Great review, Dell.

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    1. They clearly gave up on the whole thought provoking thing. Thanks.

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  4. Drew above hit the nail: any philosophical or ideological motif it tried to utilise or extrapolate never cohesed, resulting in a film thinking it was cleverer than it really was. The whole whitewashing saga was (IMO) overblown (then again, I'm an old white dude so perhaps that's part of my problem); I can understand the financial reasoning behind the choice of ScarJo, because film is a business and they need a name above the title to drag in unfamiliar audiences, but I'm with you on the Asian lead being perhaps more appropriate for the film. Interestingly, Matt Damon's The Great Wall was given a blast for similar stuff but if you watch the movie his whiteness actually works into the story it's telling, so what do I know.

    Ultimately, this GITS reboot was an admirable failure, which is disappointing because there's far too many of those kinds of films being made these days.

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    1. I get wanting a name, but there are a couple of problems with it, even from a financial standpoint. First, the property already had a vast, loyal, and some would say rabid fan base. So this pick immediately pissed them all off. This isn't the same as, say, fans upset about Ben Affleck getting the Batman role because the most that would happen is they would've replaced him another white guy. In this case it invited the conversations about whitewashing, onscreen diversity, and racism. These are all topics people are passionate enough to stay out of theaters for. The other issue is that even though ScarJo is a big name, she hasn't proven to be one that actually sells tickets. I know she's heavily involved in the Marvel films, but having her as the protagonist has been rather hit or miss. Mostly miss, though Lucy was a notable exception. My point is I'm not sure having ScarJo was a necessity in light of the controversy surrounding her choice.

      I haven't seen The Great Wall yet, but I hope to, soon.

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  5. The trailer made it look like something that could be shown on various monitors at a late 90s rave, and these comments seem to back that up. They had me at ScarJo, sure, but it's truly ridiculous that they couldn't find a Japanese actress.

    Do you think it will help or hurt that I've never seen/read/played anything GITS related?

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    1. I'm the wrong person to ask because before this I've also never seen/read/played anything GITS related. My guess is no since it feels self-contained.

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  6. I think the issue here is that they actually put the whitewashing right there in the movie when the big twist is revealed. If her character was initially a white woman in the story here they would have avoided that but for some reason they went the other way so that casting Scarlett made even less sense. It's bizarre to me that the executives in the studio didn't anticipate that this being an actual plot point will cause so many problems. The film itself was quite forgettable, the only thing I thought was above average was the score which sadly still hasn't been released

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    1. The only thing the execs were thinking was "We have ScarJo and we're gonna make money!"

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  7. I refused to watch this film just out of principle. I'm glad it underperformed at the box office and was actually hoping it would be a box office flop. I've decided to take a firm stance and avoid films that feature whitewashing. Also heard rumours that apparently the studio wanted to add digital effects to make white actors look more Asian. Which of course is easier than just casting actual Asians. But anyway, I like your review, almost makes me want to watch it just for the visuals.

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    1. I admire that principle. The visuals are great, and the movie is okay, but I don't think you're really missing out unless you're just that curious about how they made the movie look. The rumors were true, but the studio nixed the idea when people started calling them on it.

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