Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ghost in the Shell - Movie Review: A Shell of a Film

Well, at least it looked great.

Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt, Peter Ferdinando, and directed by Rupert Sanders. The film is an adaptation of the graphic novel and anime movie of the same name. I went into this film blind never having read or seen the anime. The story is set in a future where robotics are part of everyday life. Individuals augment themselves with cybernetic parts to become hybrids of machines and man.  Scarlett Johansson’s character, Major, is the first complete robotic hybrid where the entire body is machine and only the mind is human. Ghost in the Shell tries to look at the complexities of what makes people human while also telling a mystery of where Major came from. The film unfortunately doesn’t succeed in doing either.

Let’s start with the positives for the movie. The film looks absolutely stunning. Ghost in the Shell’s design is nothing short of brilliant, and it’s what got me to go see the movie from the trailers. The city scape with the holograms all around the city looks fantastic. The movie has a very 80’s futuristic vibe, probably because original graphic novel came in 1989. It looks somewhat like Blade Runner, but it has more of an empty world. The starkness of the world ends up being another issue. There are hardly any people in the world. There are a few street scenes with Major walking around with a good number extras, but when there is an action scene on the street, or when she goes to an apartment building it is empty. There are zero other people on camera except those participating in the scene.  This leads to the feeling of a dead world, instead of one populated with people. It goes back to the movie being an actual shell itself. Maybe this was the point the filmmaker was trying to make, but if so it didn’t come across well.

The action in the film is another bright spot. Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to action, and she does well again here. Here performance overall is good, but the character development in the story is a problem. With the lack of character growth, the good action isn’t enough to be engaged in the movie. Each piece of action is exciting, but there isn’t enough to offset the lack of pacing. The character Aramanki who is the lead of section nine seems interesting. He has a great small action piece towards the end of the film, but it doesn’t mean much for the story because he hasn’t been developed. He apparently is supposed to be an impressive and terrifying government agent, but there is little to nothing to establish this fact, other than he is the lead of the agency. The action he has is great, along with everyone else who is in the film. The issue is the action wasn’t enough to make the film enjoyable overall.

The goal the story Ghost in the Shell was trying achieve seems to have missed. If the film was supposed to be just a fun science fiction action movie with an interesting protagonist it didn’t deliver because there wasn’t enough action. The movie also takes itself too seriously for this to be the main purpose of the story. The film seems to want us to examine what it means to be human, but the character of Major isn’t developed enough for us to care if she is human or not. Maybe it is in the anime and graphic novel, because the framework for this concept is in the movie, it just isn’t executed. One thing which always bugs me in films is the fade to black, and cut to one year later, which they do in this film after Major awakens in her new body. After the jump in time she is suddenly an amazing operative going on missions. They could have shown some struggles and training scenes which would have given some development of how she adjusted to her new body. Instead we are dropped into what her life is like with no context of how she got there.

The story overall is strangely paced and not put together well. Again, maybe for those who know the source material it made more sense, but for a person jumping in it didn’t There is a scene close to the start of the story where Major takes an action and others object to it. They object, and yet they don’t really try to stop her and the scene is strangely shot and acted. It seemed like there should have been more resistance to her attempting the action, instead of the jilted, wait stop no don’t do that which ends up happening in the scene. There are many instances of this in the film were an event should be meaningful for the story, but the lack of buildup or the execution is lacking. There doesn’t seem to be any heart or soul in the movie. There is a good story in this material, the framing for it is in this film. The movie just forgot to execute on the actual substance.

Ghost in the Shell while fun to look at and entertaining when action is happening was a letdown overall. I can’t imagine fans of the original source material being happy with this result, and I don’t think those who aren’t will appreciate it either. The film is not worth seeing, but if it’s on cable for free you might try to wade through it. The movie could have been good because of the content being discussed, but it missed the mark. I think I’m going to check out the original anime to see how it’s executed. Comment and let me know what you thought if you saw Ghost in the Shell, and what is another good anime I should watch since I haven’t seen any. 

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