Ghost in the Shell: Ignore the backlash. Sit back, relax, grab the popcorn, enjoy the view and embrace a fantastical yet all too real and familiar world..
Director: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Pilou Asbaek, Beat Takeshi, Chin Han, Michael Wincott
12A / 1 hour 3/4 approx; sci-fi /action adventure thriller; based on the comic /anime
Plot: It is the future in an oriental city. Major (Scarlett) is a member of an elite Police force, charged with ensuring peace between cybernetic and organic human groupings in society. The catch? She is herself a construct; rebuilt from scratch in a weaponised body, seemingly impervious to pain. Her brain /mind are her own. But her memories are lost and that growing realisation is haunting her every move as glitches in the mainframe system start to riddle what might just be her final case…
I know you have heard bad things about GHOST IN THE SHELL. I know its opening weekend has probably suffered at the hands of ‘Unremarkable Girl and the Disney umpteenth lazy rip off Remake’ / ‘King Dong: Jurassic Apocalypse Park’. That is a travesty of cinematic box office returns justice. And due in no small part to yet another hate campaign, fomented largely by ill informed and culturally /commercially illiterate, embittered trolls. Well done.
Their gripe this time? ‘Whitewashing’. In short: the filmmakers had the temerity to cast an international star in a movie designed to generate an optimal box office figure, internationally. Yes, source material and heroine of said are ‘Asian’ /’oriental’. But it’s not like the whole movie and cast are translated to some American city or leafy British suburb. Beat Takeshi is one of the major players in the film and he is a God of Asian Cinema, just for starters.
Whilst the film is by no means excellent or even that distinguished, GHOST IN THE SHELL is crafted competently as entertainment. Primarily, this is a science fiction film and on that count, succeeds in following the rules of genre. The visuals blend recognisable reality with enough spins on a cybernetic future to warrant the special effects invested. When you watch or even just look at this world, you genuinely experience it and immersibly so.
The visual /lighting scheme alternate monochromatic minimalism and day-glow, pop art, vibrantly kaleidoscopic collages of colour. You can taste the food (noodles seem popular..cannot imagine why?); smell the steam and feel the grit and the grind of this urban landscape of the future.
This is at once a utopia and dystopic nightmare. To police a perfect world, one must surely resort to imperfect methods and with that moral compromise exposed and taken down, what comes next except more of the same Draconian diktat?
So the effects and the visuals are not merely eye candy: they both reflect and drive the movie’s moral motifs. This is of course, formulaic. It’s been done before with more originality and groundbreaking vision. MINORITY REPORT. BLADE RUNNER. I, ROBOT. Etc. And of course, the ‘original’ source material, too: a comic book and cartoon long before this current cinematic iteration.
But everything is derivative, as a wise man once said. The fact that a film or book or artwork or indeed any endeavour is somehow rooted in its predecessors’ styles, does not, in itself, invalidate its worth. The question is one of execution: is my attention held? Am I taken out of my own world and planted in another, sufficiently, and for enough time, without things dragging, whilst also leaving something to contemplate afterwards? I am pleased to say, the answer was a surprisingly positive ‘yes’.
There is a genuinely intriguing detective thriller at work here. The case that creates the adventure and action is examined, braved and endured by a team about whose fate you can genuinely care / fear for. Some laughs and even heart-string tugs crop up along the way, via the occasional jump in the seat shock and relentlessly, impossibly acrobatic action-heroics. Original? NO! Entertaining: YES!
A certain magical X Factor is at work here. This is likable. There is just something warm and inviting about its style of storytelling and the manner of the performances communicating pervasive motifs. Ideas that would take pages of heavily didactic expository dialogue in some over-earnest Marvel /DC super-hero counterpart are here conveyed here with clarity and economy, mostly through the medium of the moving image. Show, rather than ‘tell’.
We forget all too easily that film is just that: a visual medium as gateway to philosophical ideas and verbal expression thereof, rather than vice versa. Scarlett Johansson is suited ideally to that ethos. This is frankly her best work since her career launched; graduating from the languidly sexy voluptuary temptress of MATCH POINT and the like to the genuine action heroine that they have tried to cast her as in those Marvel AVENGERS films. She works well here in a way she simply hasn’t in previous forays to the action adventure genre.
There are little gestures that Scarlett models. A hint of a tear here or a stilted, robotic walk there. Never over-doing things but subtly yet surely conveying her character in a manner that both fits the larger than life context and does justice to a deeper question of what it means to be truly ‘human’. Ably supported by Juliette Binoche, Pilou Asbaek and Beat Takeshi.
You believe in every character and that is a critical asset in a piece of fantastical sci-fi. Except of course that this landscape is becoming an increasingly everyday reality; the virtual overtaking our own daily realities and cybernetic enhancements simply a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘what if’. Coupled with ongoing debates over civil liberties on which this film also touches, one could not find a more relevant movie right now.
The showing I caught was preceded by an advert explaining, graphically, what it is like to be autistic. Your soul is there, but trapped by a bombarding white noise of an outside world from which you are cut off, despite your outside ‘shell’ seeming unharmed. It was a poignant coincidence of theme, as Scarlett’s ‘Major’ character frantically searches for her humanity amidst a seemingly inflexible programming.
IN A (NUT) SHELL?
GHOST IN THE SHELL is not the most original, memorable or groundbreaking of films and will never gain the importance or respect enjoyed by its source materials. But it is a solid, enjoyable and well crafted piece of science fiction entertainment that balances light and dark; fantasy and reality; philosophical motif and action sci-fi escapist eye candy. Charmingly performed and executed with competence. By no means unmissable but equally a guaranteed evening of good entertainment with something to offer most members of your family from 12 upwards. Good job, Scarlett! GRADE B/ Passed for Duty. Surprisingly satisfying.