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Ghost In The Shell Review

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Ok, lets get this out of the way first. Yes, Ghost in the Shell sees Scarlett Johansson is playing role originally portrayed as Asian in a setting that is overtly influenced by Asian culture. Accusations of whitewashing have levelled at this movie since Johansson’s casting, pretty much overshadowing everything else about the movie. I’m not going to fall on either side of this debate, I’m here to review the movie and believe it should be judged on it’s own merits. So how does Rupert Sanders’ (Snow White and the Huntsman) adaption of the highly influential anime actually fare?


In a future where normal people can enhance themselves with robotic parts to make themselves better than human, Johansson's the Major is the first of her kind, a human brain and soul (the ghost) in a robotic body (the shell). Working for the Section Nine task force, she tracks down criminals, hackers, and terrorists who threaten the world. But when she investigates attack on personnel of Hanka Robotics, the company who created her, she comes up against the mysterious Kuze (Michael Pitt) who makes her question what she’s been told about her creation.

If that synopsis feels familiar, that’s the major problem with Ghost in the Shell. The original 1995 anime was a pretty straight forward cyber punk tale, with some deep philosophical musings mixed in, that went onto influence many other movies in that genre, most famously The Matrix. So almost twenty years on, after a slew of very similar cyber punk movies, it all feels a bit derivative. It’s the John Carter problem. When you influence so much in one medium, making the jump to another years later will evoke feeling of ‘been there, done that’. It’s a pity really, since you can feel Sander’s love for the anime ooze of the screen. The numerous nods to the original, be it scenes recreated shot for shot or allusions to certain characters, always feel like loving homages rather than tacked on fan service, and it does it's best to carry over the existential themes of what it means to be human, but these struggle to make as much of an impact of the original due to the fact that Japanese storytelling differs so much from western storytelling. But the narrative isn’t a total mess, throwing up some very interesting, if predictable, twists that do enough to make this adaption on its own (but one particular plot point won’t be appeasing the whitewashing complaints anytime soon). Sometimes the pacing feels off, especially in the first act where scenes just seem to happen with no rhyme or reason, but once the main plot flickers into view, it coalesces into something much more satisfying, helped by some top notch world building. Sadly, it can’t really keep that shape for too long, and while the ending does tie up everything nicely, you can’t help but feel like there could have been more.


The cast do a great job with what they’re given, with Johansson making for a compelling lead. She may feel robotic at times (but why wouldn’t she?), and throws herself into the role of Major, capturing some, but not all, of the depth of the original. Pilou Asbæk makes for endearing support as her partner, Batou, and while Pitt is somewhat wasted, he does make for an intriguing villain. But the MVP here is the legendary Japanese actor Beat Takeshi as Section 9 chief Daisuke. Refusing to speak a word of English and commanding every scene he’s in, he’s an absolute bad ass here, and if more people learn who he is because of this, then this movie would have been worth it.

The biggest selling point here is the visuals, and Sander’s really lets loose here. The world created here looks absolutely sublime (think Blade Runner on steroids and you’re halfway there), and bar one or two dodgy effects shots, everything is blended together seamlessly. Utilising both practical and CG effects wonderfully, the actions scene are absolutely breathtaking in places, with the Major’s Thermo-Optic camouflage (basically an invisible suit) used to great effect a number of times and the opening raid seen in all the trailers being a great way to kick off proceedings. If as much care went into the story as the visuals, this movie could have been perfect.

It does have it’s problems, but Ghost in the Shell can be a lot of fun at times. It may not change the minds of those whose opinions are already locked in, but it’s still a fine adaption of the original anime.






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The Movie Bit: Ghost In The Shell Review
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