Ghost in the Shell is a Hollywood adaption of a Manga/Anime back in the 90’s and let’s be honest, my expectations of it was low.
Why? Hollywood doesn’t have a very good track record when they try to convert material to film – look at Street Fighter, or even when taking a popular movie from another part of the world – see The Ring. They have had a few successes too, “Edge of tomorrow” is an adaption from a not widely known manga but turned out pretty good. I think we can add Ghost in the Shell to the list of successes.
I don’t know how well it’s doing in the box office, but as entertainment, I liked it. Ghost in the Shell has some really amazing visuals that should be appreciated on the big screen or a 4K HDR set (I’m saving up now!). The world looks fascinating with giant holographic billboard advertising lighting up the night like Osaka and Hong Kong. It’s so beautiful that it’s a world that I would like to live in. The technology is very advanced to the point people can “augment” themselves and that seemed to just fit in place with this world. It felt very much like a dystopian world with a lot of grim hanging around but imagine the fun of floating emoticons above your head everywhere you go?! That’s so cool.
Whilst we’re on aesthetics, can I just say, my god Scarlett Johansson is a goddess. Her body in the movie is all synthetic except for her brain. But it looks like she’s wearing a tight costume (with some post effects added in) showing her amazing figure off. Just wow. Ahem… I think Scarlett is actually really good in these sort of roles where her character is sort of human yet not fully. In the movie Her, she voices an OS that becomes sentient and she is very convincing in that part and she’s even better here. You know how you can tell that something is a little off with robots or CG imitating a real human being? Well, I saw Scarlett pull something like this off in the opening action scene. Her body movement and aiming had a touch of robotic-ness to it which I loved. It was like Robocop but not as exaggerated. I think it also made sense to cast Scarlett for the role instead of an Asian actor because in the story, her “shell” isn’t who she is nor is it natural for her “ghost”. So it did feel weird when she finds her mother and I think that is the point.
I felt the other characters were a bit under developed except maybe Battou. The others were given a quick line or two that sort of defined their character like we know Togusa is 100% human and hasn’t undergone any cybernetic “augmentations” because of his short conversation with Ishikawa. They don’t have many scenes in this movie. Which is fine I guess. It is a story about The Major afterall. I thought it was pretty cool how we find out why Battou get cybernetic implants for eyes. I thought that was a nice touch.
The story has elements of the Manga and, unfortunately, the cookie cutter Hollywood story too. You know, the one about the hero having fake memories and works with the bad guys then gets their memory back and takes them on later. The introduction was slow but the pacing does pick up towards the middle of the movie. Despite this, the story worked for me. It wasn’t brilliant but it wasn’t bad. It was just ok. There were parts of the movie I didn’t understand (and couldn’t hear thanks to the kids in the cinema) like the part where she brings a prostitute back to her apartment. Does her body not feel anything? She touch her lips and asked how it felt when she did the same thing a few minutes ago. Maybe her body doesn’t feel these sensations? I dunno. I think the story could’ve been better if there were more terrorist activity seen just so we can justify the existence of Section 9 and how they do things. I find it interesting to have Beat Takeshi to take out the main antagonist of the movie though. He is the head of the division so he could get his underlings to do this for him. The Major doesn’t get revenge personally. This broke out of the cliché Hollywood story which is refreshing. Most of the movie was predictable – like the jump scare you see from a mile away or the I bet she won’t do that scene, but there was one thing that kept me wondering was the initially perceived bad guy Kuze. With this character it didn’t go the way I thought it would go. I thought he was going to be an AI but turns out he isn’t and that he is actually very close to the Major (before their memories were wiped). That surprised me.
Another thing I liked about the movie were the callbacks to the original the director decided to include in the movie. The aircraft flying close to the buildings, the man running into the water section and the Spider Tank. I liked the Spider Tank scene but would’ve loved it to be a little longer. It was just a beautiful how the Major tears herself apart in the process of destroying the tank. I would’ve preferred Battou to be helping the Major walk out of that scene – it would demonstrate just how much she had to sacrifice to beat the tank. These scenes are lovely and I appreciated them but I’m wondering how it would feel for someone who hasn’t seen the original anime.
One surprise that I did not expect was the action to be so… grounded. It’s not like the usual everything’s exploding action, it’s more grim and more realistic. Although, I have to say, most of the shooting in this movie seem to miss their targets. A lot. But it was ok and I think this helped with the story. If it was a action heavy movie, it would be difficult to take in the heavy story. My favourite action scene is the Spider Tank and that just happens to be the most OTT action part of the movie. I wonder if I would like this movie much more if the action scenes were done better. There was one terrible scene where I couldn’t tell what was going on though. It was in a dark alley and these guys with electric batons attack the Major. The only light source we get are from the flickering batons and it was difficult to know what was happening, i.e. who was hitting who. I thought the Major was beating them up then it turns out she is outnumbered by them and gets captured. I would definitely have introduced more light in that scene.
If people just want an action flick and don’t want to think about a movie, then this isn’t for them. For the people who do like sci-fi I would recommend this to them. I would also highly recommend this movie if you’re a fan of “robot-esque” Scarlett Johansson.