Remakes, reboots, reimagining’s and re…whatever the hell you may want to call it is so damn tricky and especially when you are diving into one of the most beloved pieces of Japanese anime that ranks as one of the best science fiction films of all time. That being said, with this incarnation of Ghost In The Shell we get a solid entry to the genre that does actually balance a fair bit of reverence for the original source material while finding a little bit more of an accessible entry way into the narrative for wider audiences.
It’s the near future in a massive and seemingly blended cultural cityscape. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. However as the crime-fighters get more advanced so do those looking to inflict fear into the populace as terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them. Major is uniquely qualified to stop it even as she grasps with her own sense of humanity and as she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others.
While purists of the original film will hate this outing and be screaming about the whitewashing of the lead role with Scarlett Johansson taking centre stage, in reality Ghost In The Shell works as near future yarn since it plays in those shades of grey that the future will undoubtedly bring us fairly well. And while it does dumb down so of the more high minded ideals that Mamoru Oshii’s seminal classic brings up, it still allows for some high minded debate about the rights of privacy and goes to the core of the human soul with some solid results.
In his official follow up to Snow White & The Huntsman; director Rupert Sanders and his entire team smartly resisted the temptation to make this all a little more sexy and flashy in the hopes of a more attractive box office. Thankfully they stayed true to the narrative and while a lot more of the film took place in the day time then I expected this was still very much a dystopian universe that we were navigating through. With a cold brush that still was covered in day-glow neon, Sanders kept it all moving at a half way decent pace being careful to tow the line and make something that would appeal to the purists while still making for a good trailer. The film actually plays a lot straighter then I expected it to, which works both for against itself at times but ultimately makes for something a little more universal for audiences to grab on to.
Johansson wasn’t overly sexualized, if anything they took her image in the exact opposite direction as a knowingly dangerous weapon that was at odds with how she came to be in this position. Clint Mansell’s subtle score evoke memories of the original film while cinematographer Jess Hall along with the Art Direction and Visual Effects teams made sure to give us a unique blend of visuals to soak up without trying to reinvent the wheel at the same time. It was cold and depressing, but funky and cool all at the same time.
Since I’m not completely naive I can’t argue with the cynics who say that Scarlett Johansson was cast because she looks good on a poster, but she manages to go a little deeper here than I expected. While I’ll admit that some of the dialogue from screenwriters Jamie Moss and William Wheeler was a little wooden at times, she made the most of what she had and came through with an engaging and believable performance. The great Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano as veteran bad ass Aramaki and head of section 9 that is tasked to hunt down the terrorists in all their forms was a lot of fun but the likes of Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilous Asabek and Chin Han just didn’t get all that much to do. Having a little more colour from the supporting cast would have helped to bring this version of the story that they were trying to tell home just a little bit better. The entire movie experience really isn’t bad on any level, but watching it you just can’t help but shake the thought that something was missing.
At the end of that day, this is the end result for Ghost In The Shell. I think that it will work fine as a sci-fi yarn that will actually improve and benefit from multiple viewings, but given the high pedigree that this material comes from it will never be as iconic as anyone will hope that it will be.
- Release Date: 3/31/2017