Review - Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell (2017), PG-13, 107 minutes - Over an Easter weekend which found the rest of the world flocking to theaters for The Fate of the Furious, I was finally able to find the time to take in the live action adaptation of the manga/anime classic Ghost in the Shell.  I made sure to re-watch the 1995 anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii earlier in the weekend as I had not seen it in a number of years and I wanted the source material fresh in my mind going into this film (or at least some of the source material - I have not read the original manga by Masamune Shirow which inspired the anime).

Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where technology has advanced to the point that cybernetic enhancements to the human body are common place and it has even become possible for a human consciousness or 'ghost' to survive beyond the death of its human body by being implanted in an artificially produced body or 'shell'.  Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) is an agent of the anti-terrorist agency Section 9, and she is one such 'ghost in the shell'.  We quickly learn that Major was the result of an experiment by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) of Hanka Robotics after a cyber-terrorist attack killed both of her parents and left her physical body beyond healing.  She is led to believe that she is the first of her kind, a successful implementation of a human brain into an artificially engineered body.  Dr. Ouelet is pleased and satisfied with having saved a life, but Hanka Robotics' C.E.O. Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) sees an opportunity to use Major as an asset, leading to her affiliation with Section 9 Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) and his operatives Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Togusa (Chin Han).  While intervening in what is originally thought to be a terrorist attack, Major and Batou uncover information that leads them down a trail of corruption and causes Major to question who she truly is.

Much has been written about what many consider to be the 'white washing' of the cast for a film based on a story comprised predominantly of Japanese characters.  I don't want to get too deep into the debate here, as that's not what this blog is for, but I can see both sides of the coin.  I personally feel that the way the story was presented provided an acceptable explanation for why a number of characters (including Major) were not portrayed as Japanese: their 'ghosts' were inhabiting 'shells', which would not necessarily have any discerning physical characteristics.  However, I also understand the flip-side to that and can see how one could easily argue that there is no reason for an android produced by a Japanese company such as Ha nka Robotics to be Caucasian in appearance.  That being said, I feel that while others may think that this film was miss-cast, I don't believe that any roles were poorly acted.  I would cite other short comings in the film that I feel hinder it more than its casting.

Visually, Ghost in the Shell is beautiful.  The futuristic city-scape is both vibrant and alive and grimy and downtrodden depending on the location.  The CG is put to good use and the action sequences are also well done, even if they are not wholly original.  Many sequences are lifted directly from the anime, and while they are stunning, a couple feel as though they are shoe-horned into place.  The overall story has been altered (and simplified) just enough that a couple of these hallmark scenes from the anime feel forced.

All in all, I did enjoy this version but I definitely prefer the original.  I'm also now very eager to track down and read the manga out of curiosity and for comparison sake.  If you're looking for a thought provoking, sci-fi action flick, Ghost in the Shell may be right up your alley.  I do feel that those with no prior knowledge of the franchise would likely be better off as they won't be constantly comparing it to previous versions. If you are already familiar with the story, try to go in with an open mind and you shouldn't be too disappointed.  This incarnation of Ghost in the Shell sufficiently ties up the story that it sets out to tell, while also ending in a way that would allow for future installments (no matter how unlikely they may be based upon its box office performance thus far).














*****SPOILERS*****

- I'm not a Ghost in the Shell expert by any means, so I've only got a few little spoilery/Easter egg-y bits to share.

- Major's true identity is revealed to be that of Motoko Kusanagi.  Mira Killian is the identity that she was re-programmed with when her brain was joined with its shell.  Motoko Kusanagi was her identity in the original anime as well.

- A couple of character designs appear to have been pulled from the second feature length anime Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004).  The robotic geisha/assassin and Dr. Dahlin (Anamaria Marinca).  Although the doctor goes by a different name in Innocence.

- The antagonist in the 1995 anime was a hacker known as The Puppet Master.  In this film, it turned out to be Kuze (Michael Pitt) a previous, unsuccessful 'ghost in the shell' attempt.  Kuze was actually a friend Motoko's and a fellow run-away (before the experimentation) who was trying to get back at those who ruined his life.

- The garbage truck driver that Major chases down and beats up in the flooded area was actually two different characters in the 1995 anime: a garbage truck driver, and a hacker on the run.

- In this film, we see Batou before he receives his cybernetic eye implants as well as the reason behind his needing them.  In the anime, he has them from the get go.

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