Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review #1,265: 'Ghost in the Shell' (2017)

Hollywood remakes of beloved foreign-language movies are rarely a welcome idea, but Ghost in the Shell seemed particularly doomed from the get-go. Alongside the cries from fans claiming the industry has officially run out of ideas, and from those who hold the original close to their heart and fail to see any other purpose in a remake other than to allow the fat cats to count the green, the announcement of Caucasian Scarlett Johnansson's casting in a role originally voiced by an Asian actor generated all-too familiar claims of 'whitewashing'. Tempers were only inflamed when it was rumoured that Johnasson's appearance was to be digitally-tweaked to make her appear more Eastern-looking, an idea that was quickly abandoned. Predictably, Ghost in the Shell arrived in cinemas back in March to underwhelming box-office.

As a result, I approached Rupert Sanders' 2017 re-do with a sense of trepidation and caution, knowing full well that it would lack the philosophical musings of the Masaume Shirow manga the story originated from, and the big questions raised by Mamoru Oshii's landmark anime adaptation. After all, this is a blockbuster wannabe starring one of the most in-demand actresses around, so of course the makers will feel the need to dumb everything down to suit a mainstream audience (even though Christopher Nolan has proven more than once that a film can be complex and intelligent and still rake in the cash). It is perhaps thanks to my low expectations that I found much to enjoy with Ghost in the Shell. Like the 'shells' depicted in the film, it's certainly hollow and jittery, but as a piece of entertainment, I was never bored, and the visuals offer plenty of colour and detail to distract from the straightforward plot.

Taking inspiration from everything from Shirow's manga, Oshii's 1995 movie and its 2004 sequel, and the hugely popular spin-off series, certain scenes will certainly feel familiar while the story of a shady corporation turning human beings into weapons against their will feels like it could be lifted from most Blade Runner-inspired science-fiction movies of the past couple of decades. Major (Johansson) is the first cyborg to employ a fully mechanised body with the mind, or 'ghost', of a human. Her employer, Hanka CEO Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), decides to use her in the fight against cyber-terrorism, which has become a real problem since the majority of the population have now been cybernetically enhanced. She works at Section 9 with her gruff partner Batou (a bleach-blonde Pilou Asbaek) and boss Aramaki ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano), and they are forced into action when Hanka finds itself under attack from a mysterious hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt).

Oshii's 1995 incarnation tackled big themes such as humanity and identity, offering explosive moments of action to allow some relief from the head-scratching central plot. The result was one of the best animes of all time. Sanders' Ghost in the Shell has much smaller ambitions, and feels very much like a product of the post-Matrix world we now live in, even though the Wachowskis were mainly inspired by Oshii's film. It works only as spectacle, and this world of spider-legged geisha robots and giant animated advertisements really does catch the eye. The action, while hardly breaking down barriers, has a physicality behind it, and the punches and bullets land with a force that really pushes its 12A certificate to the very limits. As the lead, Johansson has proved time and time again that she is accomplished with the physical demands of such a role, and she gives Major a hunched, stompy awkwardness, despite the blandness of the character. It will never justify its existence to the die-hard fans of the original, but Ghost in the Shell 2017 offers enough visual panache and energy to engage those curious enough to check it out.

Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt
Country: UK/China/India/Hong Kong/USA

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Ghost in the Shell (2017) on IMDb

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