Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Science Fiction.
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Lasarus Ratuere, Pete Teo, Rila Fukushima.
Year Of Release: 2017
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writer(s): James Moss & William Wheeler
Synopsis: “In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.” IMDB
Firstly, I need to point out that I have exactly zero prior knowledge of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. I have never seen any of the animated films or television series or played any of the games. My anime knowledge lies simply with Akira (1988) and something else that I watched a long time ago that I just cannot remember the name of. Point being, I went into this film entirely as a newbie and judged it purely on that basis. I must admit that from the trailers, I wasn’t overly impressed. Nothing really gripped me and it all seemed a bit convoluted. However, did it exceed my expectations? Well, since I went in not expecting much from it tall, it couldn’t really disappoint me. That being said, that doesn’t mean that I was impressed.
Let’s talk about the setting for starters. The neo-noir futuristic dystopian world is something that we have seen many times before; we’ve seen it in films such as Blade Runner (1982), Metropolis (1927), Total Recall (1990), Dark City (1998)…the list goes on. In all of these films there’s only ever a slight variation on the actual setting of sky-reaching buildings, shadowed streets depicting human desolation, contrasting bright lights and technological advancements, controlled ways of life and so on and so forth. It’s only in the CG rendering and the directorial execution that makes these worlds look more impressive than the last, and Ghost in the Shell certainly does look great, but it doesn’t really add too much in the way of aesthetics that hasn’t been seen before. Pretty much most of the time they all just feel like a love letter to David Cronenberg, with a distinct lack of originality, and GinS is certainly no exception.
As I said, from the trailers alone I got the feeling that the film might just be a bit of a mess and overly complicated, the same way in which the Matrix films (1999-2003) bordered on the ridiculous and became nothing more than works of self-indulgent pompous nonsense, that tried to be far more clever and sophisticated than they actually were. In truth, there was none of that (improbable sci-fi elements aside). In fact, the story was so simple that it was actually kind of bland. Very bland in fact and almost entirely uninspired. The whole cyber-biological machine/human extravaganza has been done more times than I can count, but does it add anything new? To some extent, yes. There’s always new ways to explore evolution, world mechanics and the need to become more than what we are and GinT does succeed to that end, but not enough to bring an exciting sense of freshness to it. It all feels a bit by-the- numbers from start to finish. The story flows well, but nothing genuinely spectacular ever happens; nothing that blows your mind and makes the whole thing feel worth your time and money. It’s all a bit half-hearted and you can’t help thinking that there is so much lost potential.
In the main role of ‘Major’, we have Scarlett Johansson. Now, I’ll leave it to the GinS purists to battle out as to whether she was a fitting choice or not. For me, the casting was neither here nor there. I’m afraid I didn’t really find the character interesting enough to care about who was playing her. Or maybe that issue does in fact stem from the casting of Johansson. Johansson, at best, is an average actress. She’s fairly hit-and- miss, in my opinion and no matter how much you want to like a person, having a smokey voice, being attractive and fitting snuggly into a skin-tight CG suit doesn’t necessarily make you a good fit for the role. She wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but she just didn’t sell the character. Or maybe the writing was good enough for her to make anything of it? Her performance was rather by-the- books and there was something about the way that she physically carried herself that just irritated the hell out of me. I get the detachment that she was going for, but as far as I’m concerned it just didn’t work. She just looked silly.
There is one person that I just cannot fault in absolutely everything, and that is the incomparable ‘Beat’ Takeshi. This extraordinary man of many talents shines in everything that he does. I was most pleasantly surprised to see his name in the opening credits. As Chief Daisuke Aramaki of the Section 9 task force, Takeshi is just captivating in every scene. There is a real sense of grace and authority about him that oozes every moment that he is on-screen. When he talks, you listen. A perfect fit for the character. That’s about as interesting as it gets when it comes to the casting. Hardly anyone else stuck in my mind as being the slightest bit memorable. Pilou Asbæk gave a fine performance as battle-hardened Batou, though nothing special by any means, but he was good in the role. The only other actor worth mentioning is the ever-reliable Michael Pitt in the role of Kuze, but even that character hardly stood out as exceptional. I’m pretty much putting that one down to the writing though as I felt that they just didn’t do enough with the character (perhaps the same could be said for all of them).
Overall, Ghost in the Shell wasn’t a bad film at all, but it definitely wasn’t memorable. The story plodded along without anything remarkable actually happening. At no point did it challenge my emotions, nor did I feel invested in the story as I just didn’t feel that there was anything new to envelope me. As the many minutes ticked by, I just found myself wanting to get to the end of it. Nothing sucked me in and made me want more. The characters were mostly pretty two-dimensional and it was hard to tell if any great thought had gone into writing them. The soundtrack was fairly standard and it failed to separate from the dystopian worlds that I have seen before. Like I said, it looked pretty good, but nothing special. The story was actually quite predictable and, when it came to the end, a was hardy left wanting for more. There were some good action scenes, but even they were sparse. Perhaps fans of the genre will find this more enticing than I, but for me, the whole thing was unfortunately void of anything special. Maybe in the hands of someone else it could have been greater, but we got what we got, and I wasn’t impressed.