There were outcries when Scarlett Johanson was announced as being cast as the role of Major in the live action film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. It did cause some controversy– once again the white washing Hollywood monster reared its ugly head. Controversy aside though, I wasn’t that worried about Scarlett being the Major. She played the Black Widow in Avengers! She was awesome in the film Lucy. She’s got this! Though after watching the movie, I’m not so sure she succeeded in showing the Ghost inside the Shell…
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ghost in the Shell (Firstly, this is one of the staple anime films that makes up your soul, you need to see it!) it’s based upon Masamune Shirow’s anime of the same name that was made into a full feature anime film in the 90’s. It tells the story in the far future, a cyber punk world where Section 9 acts as a special ops department for the government, working on cases such as the Puppet Master – an elusive enemy who has been hacking into cyber enhanced brains and forcing them to do his bidding. It’s up to Major Motoko Kusanigi and her crew to step in!
I will point out now that I am a huge fan of GITS. It has a powerful mix of a strong female protagonist, set in a futuristic world, with glorious animation and throw in some thought provoking philosophy and it remains to this day, one of the best anime films of all time. Period! (Except maybe for the sequel Ghost in the Shell: Innocence). I was very open to a live movie adaptation even if the interpretation was different to the anime original… And I was even more on board when Scarlett Johanson was announced to be the Major. I’m just finding it difficult to remain positive about this film that wasn’t so much as a bad film, it was worse. It was mediocre.
A fair few things bugged me throughout whilst watching the movie. The Major and other characters kept referring to “Ghosts” (meaning souls) within shells (bodies) and yet in the original anime, the characters just allude to it, it isn’t just outright said. My point is the live action movie appears to be in many ways a dumb down version of the original something you’ll agree with as you read on…
The wonderful Pilou Asbaek (who played Kasper in Danish drama Borgen) plays Batou, who I didn’t feel was utilised in the film to his best ability. To begin with he didn’t wear his signature glasses until there was an explosion he took to the face. I found him irritating as a character and while I appreciate it gives him more of a story – it’s just not needed. He was needed to be the Major’s sidekick not just a disposable backing character. It’s a shame really as Pilou is able to deliver fantastic performances, again things just felt like his character was a dumbed down version.
One good thing, the cyber enhanced China of the future looked both beautiful and terrifying at the same time – huge 3D holograms loomed over the city, advertising everywhere you could see, along with cyber inhabitants that were awesome to look at.
However, this raises my main concern with GITS. The film seems to be all style and no substance. It looks great in many parts but has had its soul ripped out. You could say this is just a shell of a film without its ghost.
To demonstrate my point Scarlett Johanson’s performance as the Major is well acted but doesn’t fit with me as the Major’s personality. Or at least, the Major I know. She seems far too quick to react and convey emotion when the Major is usually much more complex / mysterious in things she does. I wish Mary Elizabeth Mcglynn (she voiced the Major in the series) was cast as she could have really brought Motoko to life.
I may be sounding hyper critical as a super fan but the fact is, these small niggles form a very mixed & jumbled film totally unlike the original anime. It’s frustrating to have your favourite film turned into something dumb and void of any of the greatness it was once. They could have made a cyberisation style film in the same way – there was no need for it to be Ghost in the Shell.
Sure it’s not all bad, some fan service was delivered such as the inclusion of Batou’s love for looking after a basset hound but even little winks such as these left me feeling cold.
There are some awesome scenes that felt almost as good as the anime, such as the opening scene in a Chinese restaurant where diners from Hanka robotics (the makers of the robots in the film) are served by robot Geisha. The Geisha are hacked remotely and turn against the diners, cue the Major to come smashing through the window (in thermoptic camouflage no less) and take out the Geisha one of which became spider like and took a hostage up into the corner of the room.
It’s just a shame these awesome scenes are few and far between. I know it’s very easy for me to criticise the film – I just wish it was more like the anime. I don’t think it works as a live action movie. It’s fantastic the film ever made it out of development hell; it’s just disappointing they missed the true core of the original.
I urge you not to see this film. Watch the original anime instead – the sequel is just as good (if not better) and the series is entertaining enough too (though more action based). The live action Ghost in the Shell is a complete failure to represent the beauty, intellect and often deeply moving original. Hollywood should have seen the Ghost in the original movie and not produced this shell of a mess!