Movie Review – Ghost in the Shell
Full disclosure – I’ve never seen the original Manga source material for this movie so I can’t comment on how closely this movie follows it. But I’d heard the semi-robocop concept (a woman, near death, has her brain transplanted into an artificial body and put to work fighting crime and corruption) and thought it sounded awesome.
First up, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. The white elephant, even. Or whitewashed elephant at least. The movie is set in futuristic Japan but the lead is played by a white actress, Scarlett Johansson. From the fuss on social media, I believe this is counter to the source material and certainly it makes little sense that a Japanese corporation building artificial bodies wouldn’t make one that looked like a local. If she were designed for operations in the West, sure, but she’s made for local undercover work so looking like a foreigner is a disadvantage. So there was a lot of anger about Hollywood’s whitewashing of this role and it seems legitimate to me.
This is actually further exacerbated by the movie not making up its mind how to present language. Some characters speak English the whole time and others speak Japanese with English subtitles…and they do it in the same conversation with each other. Scarlett Johansson’s character speaks in English, her boss replies in Japanese, she replies in English and so forth. Who does that? It makes no sense. If they’re all speaking English we can pretend it’s the local language. If they’re all Japanese with subtitles, we assume it’s done for authenticity. Pick one and stick with it – especially within the same conversation – or you’re just drawing attention to the discrepancy.
Setting the whole whitewashing thing aside, this movie isn’t nearly as engaging as I’d hoped. It feels like an old B grade sci-fi made with an A-grade special effects team and actor. There’s very little in the way of emotional connection to the characters and, despite there being a lot of action, I found myself getting bored. I actually paused half way through to go find something interesting to do.
There are a few moments in this movie that simply don’t make sense to me. This is a seriously technologically advanced society (many of the inhabitants of this world are cybernetically modified or androids and the bad guy is hacking some of them and able to control them to do various nasty things)…which is why I found it particularly amusing that a character was unreachable due to being “in transit” – that is, being driven through the city. That is some strangely patchy cellphone coverage right there. Maybe she didn’t order a hands-free kit with her implants…even though she wasn’t the one driving. Also, when the hacker takes over a couple of garbage collectors to have them kill someone, they pull out machine guns. That’s right, garbage collectors apparently drive their route with machine guns in the glovebox. WTF?
The special effects were great and the movie is visually impressive. The setting is very busy due to the technology, which can be a little distracting but certainly fits with the world that’s been created and there’s that gritty, underworld feel contrasted with high end tech. The technology also makes for some fun twists on how the assassinations go down and how the good guys operate.
Over all, I liked the premise but felt that it fell a little flat. It did make me think maybe I should go look for the original Manga and see if I like that better. Sometimes it’s better not to recreate what’s already been done right.