Film Review : Ghost in the Shell (2017)

, in Films, Science Fiction

Ghost In The Shell PosterDateline: sometime hence in a teaming futuristic (ostensibly Japanese) metropolis. Cybernetic implants, both legal and illicit are common, and most people are enhanced in some way, ether physically or by having skills implanted directly into their brains.

Our friends at the not-at-all evil Hanka Robotic have gone a step further and secretly built an entire body to house an organic brain. Mira Killian is the lucky test subject who wakes up in the new body after she is injured in a terrorist attack that killed her family. Naturally, Mira becomes a paramilitary agent working for the anti-terrorist bureau Section 9.

Ghost in the Shell raises many questions:

Could the weird sensory glitches that Mira is experiencing be memories?

Is Mira really the same person she was before? Or even still human at all?

Could there possibly be a some sort of conspiracy?

Isn't this just the plot of the original Robocop with a side-order of sexy lady?

Nobody over the age of 12 could be surprised by the answers but just in case, the rest of this review will contain spoilers.

Ghost in the Shell is a quasi-remake of an 1990s anime filmA film I have never seen. Friends tell me that the 2017 version has a somewhat different plot, but several scenes lifted directly from the original and it wears its history proudly. The characters all look and talk (and even move) like anime characters and scenes are shot in the easy-to-be-cheaply-animated static style beloved by overworked artists.

The cityUnnamed, I think, in the film but I assume it is Tokyo is a sprawling hodgepodge of cultures and architectural styles, with huge advertising holograms hovering over grimy streets. Very Bladerunner-esque but more colorful. Occasionally things goes too far, and the background threatens to overwhelm whatever we are supposed to be focusing on.

Being such an anime-influenced film, you would think fans of the would be happy with the remake. But judging from twitter, people are upset with the casting of the very non-asian Scarlett Johansson as Mira. I haven't done a complete survey, but I have not heard of mass complaints from actual Japanese people regarding the change. Personally, I thought Johansson did a good job with thisShe has had a lot of practice - I think this is the 7th film where she has played a super-powered agent with a mysterious past she can't quite remember and her race actually plays into the themes of identity vs physical state quite well.

Less defensible is the rest of Mira's look - a painted-on flesh colored jumpsuit. I know this is straight out of the source material, but I expect an anime to be filled with fetish-wear and lingering slo-mo butt shots. Seeing the same thing in a big budget live action film seems harder to take for some reason.

Many woman complain about the absence of pockets in their apparel
Many woman complain about the absence of pockets in their apparel

I am not an expert in paramilitary tactics but I doubt that Mira's speciality of jumping backwards off skyscrapers would be as super effective in reality as it is portrayed in this film.

I believe that the military term for this maneuver is tactical plummeting
I believe that the military term for this maneuver is tactical plummeting

On the other hand, if I were a terrorist and the person sent to take me down turned out to be nigh-nude woman dropping out of the sky while scissor kicking everything in sight then I might be put on the back foot for a few seconds. I remove my objection!

I can't help but wonder how great the online outrage would be if they had cast an asian actress but put her in appropriate clothing - my guess is about the same.

Putting race and gender relations aside, how does Ghost in the Shell stack up as a film? I enjoyed it for what it was, an overstuffed action film, rather than what it attempts. The film pretends to be examining the human condition but never really lets any of the ideas it brings up breathe between the gunplay. This is not the deep film it thinks it is and would have worked better as a Pacific Rim-style brawler.

I did like the scene where Mira meets her mother, partly because after nearly 2 hours of action it was a couple of minutes of quiet reflection. But that was immediately cancelled out by the final fight scene with a giant mechanical spiderDid Hollywood learn nothing from Wild Wild West? that contains none of the visual imagination and color that sweetens rest of the film.

I don't know. Ghost in the Shell is an OK action flick but any flashes of inspiration just make the rest of the film seem worse in comparison.

You already know if you are going to watch it. I can only recommend it if you like this sort of thing.

Robocop was better, but you can say that about almost everything.