Guys, never get on the wrong side of an anime fan. If you ever dare call them cartoons or suggest that you prefer the English dubs, you will witness anger you didn’t quite realize was possible. Because it is such a niche genre over here in the UK with only a few shows and movies ever getting noticed by mainstream audiences over here. and usually, the shows that get noticed are ones looked down by the anime community so saying Pokemon is your favorite anime will also unleash the great anger. So doing an adaptation of an anime is very risky business, so they better get this movie version of Ghost in the Shell right. But do they?
In a world where cybernetic enhancements are the norm, Mira (Scarlet Johansson, Lost in Translation) becomes the first person where her human brain is placed within a robot shell. She then becomes a counter terrorist operative but she soon discovers that the company that made her might be holding more secrets than she realizes about how she came to be.
I will kick off this review by saying some nice things as I can tell you now, this is going to be a long winded rant about how bloody boring everything is. Because while I’ll get to why the plot is poor, the film is always very nice to look at. While the futuristic city is not exactly the most original thing in the world and you’ve seen cities like this in movies such as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, it does at least look fantastic and is the best the movie does at bringing you into the world. I love the huge holographic adverts, even though they would be so obtrusive in real life, and it seems like a really cool place to live even though that’s the first sign you know there’s something dodgy under the surface.
Right, we’ve been nice enough to this film now. Because quite frankly while the film will dazzle you with its visuals, it will bore you to tears. Because when the rather cool action scenes stop, the plot is basically a beginners lesson in philosophy in what it means to be a human. Because these conversations are so tiring and dull, imagine listening to a student who has just had his first lecture at the university and now thinks he knows everything, it makes you desire to hear more exposition. Because while that is delivered in a dull way, at least it moves the plot forward in some way. The talk about what it means to be human doesn’t and it doesn’t really teach you anything new either. Just stuff you’ve heard before in better movies.
The dullness factor is made even worse by the performance by Scarlet Johansson. But first, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. Casting Johansson in the lead role has been seen by many as the latest sign of Hollywood whitewashing, with Mira being Japanese in the source material and Johansson obviously being a white person. And while that is bad enough, the film really tries to dig itself out of its hole. It really really tries. But that makes it all the worse. The attempts are cringe worthy as the film tries desperately to tell itself it hasn’t been whitewashing but then goes on to make it how obvious the whitewashing was. It is definitely not the worst whitewashing Hollywood has done but considering it’s now 2017 this is very embarrassing.
But let’s discuss her actual performance for a bit as that affects the quality of Ghost in the Shell more. It’s completely robotic. I get that it has to be like this for the most part because a plot point is that many of her emotions have been drained away, but can’t they at least give her a bit more character to work with so we can actually care about her? Every line is delivered in the same way, whether it is discussions of a military plan or a really tough emotional reveal that changes the way she sees everything. This must be down to the direction from Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) because Johansson is usually a very charismatic actor, but here she is basically condemned to repeating lines like an answering machine.
And as if Ghost in the Shell decides at the very end to make itself a complete joke. One of the film’s redeeming features is that the action scenes tended to be good, using the cool visuals to enhance what are well edited and choreographed fight scenes. So with the end coming, you at least expect something rather good to cap the movie off and maybe at least send you off with a smile. But amazingly, the movie decides to go with a mechanical spider. I have no idea if this was in the original manga or anime, but here in the west, having a mechanical spider in your film is basically a joke thanks to the madness that was the conclusion to Wild Wild West. I don’t believe that Jon Peters, a man who tried to force a mechanical spider in many movies before getting into the doomed Will Smith production, is anything to do with this film but he must be proud to see his legacy live on.
Ghost in the Shell is one of the most groundbreaking films ever made and will be a hallmark of the genre for years to come. Wait a minute, I’m sorry, that’s the anime I’m talking about. This Ghost in the Shell is one of the dullest action films I have come across in recent years and it really struggles to keep your attention. Its plot is just a poor man’s attempt to be philosophical and it has performances which really get into the idea that everything’s robotic in some way. Yeah, the film looks cool and when they don’t contain mechanical spiders, the action scenes are cool. But that doesn’t stop the film is about as entertaining as a trip to the wallpaper paste factory.