Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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Major bummer: Dreamworks/Arad Productions

Out of the two unnecessary live-action remakes released this month, I’ll take the one with some evident passion behind it. Mamoru Oshii’s anime GHOST IN THE SHELL worked because it allowed you time to think. For every iconic image, brutally stylish act of violence or grim neon cityscape, it gave the plot room to breathe and the themes time to sink in, with every scene saying something important. Evidently, something was lost in translation.

The Major (Scarlett Johansson), an almost entirely cybernetic member of elite police force Section 9, hunts a hacker intent on bringing down corporations and governments. As she follows her target’s trail of destruction, she delves into her own mysterious past and unearths some shocking truths…

In comparison with Oshii’s animated world which was full of telling details, striking world-building with its own weight and presence, Rupert Sanders’ version of this story is a haze of second-hand images, all contained within an ugly and cheap-looking fake city. The shots of the Major surveying the metropolis from on high look like she’s been pasted into badly reproduced stills from the anime, and the action has no rhythm or artistry, rushing by in a blur of bullets (hitting notably more androids than people, because this had to be suitable for the pre-teens who would never bother to see it) and the 3D, with too much movement within the frame and rapid-fire editing in the action, which made my eyes sore. The only memorable images here are those lifted wholesale from the anime – the reservoir brawl, the Major scuba-diving and contemplating her reflection as she rises to the surface, the rubble-strewn spider-tank battle – and these all had far more impact hand-drawn.

The sound is pretty disappointing too. Compare the spiritual atmosphere of the original’s drums, cymbals and choir singing in ancient Japanese with the generic electro sonic durge here. Like a lot of the film, there’s just no personality to it. This film even has the cheek to accompany its end titles with the main theme from Kenji Kawai’s original score, bringing just how short the new soundtrack falls into sharp relief.

It doesn’t matter how many times the filmmakers watched the original Ghost in the Shell or its sequel; nobody involved in this project, from director Sanders to the three credited writers and Johansson, got the source material. The anime was about losing your humanity through steady replacing of body parts and upgrading of our physical forms, making us more resilient and more vulnerable in equal measure as a species. This remake is about shady corporate types putting a human brain in a robot to make her…better…at…roboting?

I wasn’t overly offended by the controversial casting at first (it was a big missed opportunity, but sadly nobody was going to finance this if it wasn’t in English and with a Hollywood name attached) but then I saw how they incorporated this decision within the film’s plot. Without spoiling the film’s (admittedly terrible) twist, they actually try and ligitimise whitewashing through literalisation. Elsewhere the cast are unable to make an impact in any way unless they’re Takeshi Kitano, and he’s only good because he’s playing the same character he’s played for the last 25 years. Also, is it just me or does it look suspiciously like Kitano was inserted into his scenes afterwards? He rarely interacts directly with the others (certainly not in the same shot) and his role mostly amounts to delivering orders in Japanese over “mind-com” and characters in different locations reacting to them. If he was on set with everyone else, he clearly wasn’t having much fun, and if he was in a room by himself, then no wonder he looks so disinterested.

The film isn’t devoid of ideas, with prostitutes on street corners displaying holographic signs of their profession hovering over their heads like a sordid video game side quest, and dealers offering you black market cybernetic upgrades down shady alleyways, but even these can be hard to pick out in this jumble. The remake of Ghost in the Shell is a mess that shouldn’t even be allowed to share the title, and the first complete disaster at the multiplex in 2017. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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