Movie: Ghost in the Shell (2017)
My Rating: 4 stars
I don’t know why people considered this movie to be such a bomb. I guess it didn’t do nearly as well at the box office as was anticipated, but it’s not a bad movie. In fact, I thought it did a pretty good job of sticking to a lot of the imagery and sensibility of the source material, while adding just enough differences to the plot to keep it interesting. But people are famously hard to please. And, I’m guessing the movie did poorly because not enough of the mainstream audience was familiar enough with the source anime to care about this live action remake. And, perhaps some of the diehard fans didn’t want to support this American bastardization of their beloved franchise.
I’ll go on the record as saying that I liked this movie a lot. I’m very familiar with the original Ghost in the Shell anime series, and I think the filmmakers did an excellent job reaching out to the old fans. I’m one of them, and I always thought that the show and movies dealt with such interesting ideas, and did it so stylishly. It’s one of our greatest pleasures as humans to imagine what kind of wonders the future of technology may hold. And we’ve always been obsessed with making ourselves stronger, more beautiful, and longer lived. I think the original creator of the series was remarkably prescient with his predictions about where the future of the internet and medicine might be headed. And much of the visual imagery is just as creepy and unsettling as it is exciting. Fans of the anime will recognize many exact images from the show—some of the most visually iconic scenes, character design, silhouettes of the skyline and aircrafts. I was always a little creeped out by the rogue geisha-bots that were running amok in the animated series. And in this movie, the art team turned them into sinister terrors that will haunt my nightmares forever. That kind of uncanny valley material always unsettled me more than anything else. Even as a child, I refused to let anyone bring their baby-dolls or Barbies near me.
Of course, this movie also made the news for what I think was a rather misguided accusation of racism. People are claiming that this movie is yet another example of Hollywood whitewashing an Asian character. I’m not saying that that isn’t a problem that exists. It certainly does. But, I think that anyone familiar with the story in Ghost in the Shell would understand that it doesn’t apply in this instance. The protagonist in this story, whether it be Scarlett Johansson in this live action version or the animated character, isn’t a human, Japanese lady. She’s a robot. Yes, she started off as a Japanese lady whose mind was placed into a new robot shell. But that body was always portrayed as a sexy, ethnically ambiguous creature, that was designed to be a tactical, killing machine. And, this movie even specifically addresses that issue in a pretty satisfying way. I think this is a case of people getting prematurely excited about skewering yet another big budget film for racism. I know, it’s fun to act morally superior—especially when dealing with a target as easy as the American movie studio system. But, I think if some of those critics actually watched the movie, they’d understand that their complaints are unfounded in this case.
I liked this movie, and I think people should see it. And, this is coming from a person who was expecting to be disappointed. I saw the 3D version in the theater, and I think this movie really is big and exciting enough to benefit from the 3D IMAX treatment. But, you’ll probably enjoy it no matter how you view it. The acting was pretty good. I’m not typically a big Scarlett Johansson fan, but I think she did an admirable job in this role. And you can always count on Beat Takeshi to deliver a solid performance as a cranky, yet tough, old coot. But really, it’s the imagery and aesthetics that made this movie for me. You’ll be blown away by the visuals. So gorgeous! And, so terrifying. I accept that this is a pretty controversial remake. So, I’d be interested in hearing back from other fans of the series.