Friday, March 31, 2017

Movie Review: GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is directed by Rupert Sanders and is the live-action remake of the 1995 Mamoru Oshii directed Ghost in the Shell (as well as the Masamune Shirow manga of the same name). This film once again follows a character named Major working for a clandestine government organization known as Section 9 trying to uncover who is behind the systematic killing and hacking of heads of a major cybernetic enhancement company whilst also learning more about herself and what it means to be human (or not). This film stars Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbœk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, and Peter Ferdinando.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this latest iteration of Ghost in the Shell. It is no secret that live action adaptations of anime properties haven’t been Hollywood’s finest work, and Ghost in the Shell is a tough property because of how think-y it is. This film also has to overcome comparisons to great sci-fi that has been made as a result of the original Ghost in the Shell properties (The Matrix being the primary example). What I thought this movie did brilliantly was capturing the soul of the original and constructing a visual world around the story that was so brilliantly in line with the original work. Further, I think this iteration adds several small moments that really enhance the storytelling around the complex central themes of this story. The film isn’t perfect though. There are some flat performances and some scenes and moments that are so atrocious (and horribly executed) that the film leaves you feeling bad about what you saw.

Starting out with the positives, the most evident strength of this movie is the visual style. The production design, visual effects, and visual direction of this film was absolutely superb. This brought to life the amazing world shown in many Ghost in the Shell properties that have come before. It also managed to do it in a realistic way. Unlike another recent adaptation of an animated property, Beauty and the Beast, this film actually felt like a real world. It is certainly futuristic, but it looks and feels like a real tangible world. That was incredibly welcome and invested me in this right from the get-go. It also showed an incredibly strong level of understanding when to borrow imagery directly from the 1995 film and when it had leeway to change things up. This worked extremely well and made for an excellent viewing experience.

On top of the visual style, I thought the film did a great job maintaining the soul of the original anime. It definitely brought up the excellent ideas and really furthered the central theme of humanity and personhood with a number of subtle moments in this film. There is one scene in particular where the major interacts with a wholly human character that is so soft, quiet, and emotionally driven while furthering the underlying thematic narrative of the story which made everything really come to the forefront of this adaptation. The actors all had opportunities to add to this and most did making this film really tell more visually rather than just through persistent expositional dialogue.

Finally, I thought that the action in this film was mostly well done, especially when it was borrowing from the anime. There are many really cool moments and action scene recreations that absolutely nail it. They look superb, are viscerally engaging, and are just a joy to watch. I really thought this kept the film moving at a good pace and made it fairly enjoyable throughout.

The primary difficulty I had with this iteration of Ghost in the Shell were a couple scenes that are abjectly horrible and a general flatness to the performances in the movie. There is one scene in particular that stands out because it almost doesn’t feel like it’s a part of this movie. It is so weirdly jarring in terms of both style and tone and it feeds into a major plotline toward the end of the movie making it very difficult to move past. There is also a beat at the end that is incredibly on the nose and completely out of sync with the strong sense of subtlety and legitimacy the rest of the movie had. As a general matter, the movie starts great and ends poorly which is never a good combination for leaving audiences with a positive impression of your film.

On top of that, the performances in the film have a certain flatness to them. I was certainly impressed by a variety of moments the cast had, but they felt incredibly flat across the board. There was an immense amount of sameness in this film that made the human emotion that underlies the story feeling exceedingly drab. This wasn’t fatal to the film but it was far from ideal.

Overall, I was a fan of this iteration of Ghost in the Shell and I hope it will encourage audiences to explore the material further. I think this brought the film into live action in an extremely effective, although not perfect, way and is something people should check out.

Ryan’s Score: 7.5/10

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