Will you enjoy the new version of Ghost in the Shell? Dependson what you want when you go to the movies.
If, like me, youre mostly hoping to see something new, well, youre in for a treat: This is one of the best-looking science fiction films in years. Yes, many of the shotswere clearly inspired by the Japanese film, but director Rupert Sanders and his team havetranslated those animated visuals into a lovingly detailed mix of live action and CGI.
And whilethis new Ghost in the Shellcertainly draws fromits manga and anime predecessors, it seems even more inspired by Blade Runner. Of course, any movie depicting a gritty, cyberpunk-y city sits in Blade Runners shadow, but this one doubles down on the debt, crowding itsskyline with enormous holographic advertisements an obvious echo of the giantbillboards that dominated Ridley Scotts futuristic Los Angeles.
Somehow, though, Ghost in the Shelldoesnt feel purely derivative itsupdated Blade Runners oh-so-80s mix of rain, steam and neon into something more that feels more contemporary, with bright splashes of comic book-y color that almost overwhelm the screen.
And like Blade Runner, the movies best ideas are conveyed visually, rather than in the script.One of the most compelling elements is the way thatalmostevery character has been altered cybernetically, but for the most part,no one makes a big deal about it. Just seeing the kind of future that Elon Musk might envisionis a million times more thought-provokingthan endless conversations about Where do you draw the line between man and machine? and What makes us human?
On the other hand, if you want a good script, youll have to keep looking. While mostofGhost in the Shells best scenes (the violent, slow-motion ballet that kicks off the film; an eerie raid on the villains headquarters midway through) are wordless, you also have to make it through annoying moments when characters talk tediously on and on about grand abstractions like Humanity and The Soul.
Perhaps those scenes would be more forgivable if the script had anything interesting to say about thiscybernetic future. After all, the main character Major (played by Scarlett Johansson) is basically a human brain connected to a robotic body, so youd think the movie would find time to explore how much of Majors human self survives without her old body, or how much free will she retains despite being literally programmed by her corporate masters.
But no. All we get are those clunky conversations that never lead anywhere, followed by afinal act that drops the bigger questions entirely so it can focus onaction (which is perfectly enjoyable), strained attempts at emotion (less enjoyable) and establishing a new status quo for any sequels (eh).
Plus, the scripts lack of subtlety makes it all the more glaring that it pretty much ignoresthe issue that has dominated so many discussions of the film namely, the fact that this isa Japanese story with Japanese characters thatsbeen adapted into a Hollywood film with white leads.
To be clear, Ghost in the Shell is hardly the first movieto whitewash Asian characters. But the fact that this is still happening, and that its happeningtosuch a high-profileand belovedJapanese property, seems to have led to a particularly intense backlash.
How does the movie deal with the issue? Mostly by not talking about it at all.
It does depicta cosmopolitan city filled with characters of manyraces, and a law enforcement team at Section 9 (where Major works)thatssimilarly diverse.So the filmmakers might have been able to claim color blindness except, of course, thatthe biggestroles have gone to white actors. (The only realexception is thecasting of legendary Japanese director/actor Beat Takeshi Kitano as the leader of Section 9. And yes,he does get to kick ass.)
Since Johansson and her co-star MichaelPitt (whoplays the mysterious villain Kuze) both deliver solid performances, I might have been able to stifle my reservations about the casting, just as Ive done with other Hollywood movies.
Unfortunately, in a late-filmtwist, Ghost in the Shell actually doubles downon the whitewashingin a way that I cant reveal here without spoiling things. (If you really want to know, knock yourself out.) What I will say is that the moviekind of acknowledges the problematic castingby using a head-clutching reversal ofGet Out and thenit tries to sweepthe whole thing under the rug. It raises all kinds of questions, and then seems to hope that you immediately forget them.
So despite how much I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell, its hard not to see it as something of a missed opportunity. And despite all the creativity and skill that went into theproduction design, the moviealso serves as a reminder that in a few key ways, Hollywoods imagination remains severely limited.