Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Rated PG-13: For Mild Disturbing Imagery, Mild Sensitive Content and Violence

Running Time: 106 minutes (1 hour and 46 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adaptation, Adventure, Cyberpunk, Mystery, Science Fiction

Released on March 31, 2017 (US Release Date, Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Arad Productions, Shanghai Film Group Corporation, and Huahua Media

Based on the manga "Ghost in the Shell" by Masamune Shirow

Writers: Ehren Kruger, Jamie Moss, and William Wheeler

Director: Rupert Sanders

  • Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian / Motoko Kusanagi
  • "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as Daisuke Aramaki
  • Michael Carmen Pitt as Kuze / Hideo
  • Pilou Asbæk as Batou
  • Juliette Binoche as Doctor Ouelet
  • Peter Fedinando as Cutter

Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution, two of Hollywood's really horrible attempts at adapting some of your fondest childhood memories, have set the bar for other manga and anime adaptions really low. Now, get ready to have one of the most beloved manga of all time receive the Hollywood makeover, but this time ... it is watchable, but still not on the "masterpiece" level. The weird thing about this movie is that I only became interested with it because of just how decent it looked, and also the whole casting controversy. I may not be the biggest manga or anime fan, with that honor going to some of my weeaboo "Suicide Squad-mates", but I do know a potentially great movie when I look at one, and this movie had loads of chances to be amazing. Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and this is our movie review of Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson. Spoilers, obviously.

What is the movie about?

In futuristic, dystopian Japan, which is strangely populated by people who are not Japanese, everyone has access to advanced technology in the form of "enhancements", bits and pieces of mad science that enable people to obtain new physical abilities and characteristics.

In this world, half-human, half-machine Major Mira Killian, played by Johansson (The Avengers), working closely with her trusted partner and confidant Bakou, played by Asbæk (Game of Thrones), under the leadership of Daisuke Aramaki, played by Kitano (Battle Royale), fights the growing crime wave as an agent of "Section 9". She has a past she cannot remember, and she feels as if she was never human to begin with.

One night, as supposed "glitches" of other memories start to surface, Mira encounters the mysterious cyber-terrorist Kuze, played by Pitt (I Origins), who is carrying a secret with regards to the Major, she must solve the mystery behind her creation, including her creators, Doctor Ouelet, played by Binoche (The English Patient), and Cutter, played by Ferdinando (High-Rise), and bring the true culprits in, but the truth might just be too much for her.

What we think of the movie?

Acting = (3/5)

Scarlett Johansson is an awesome actress, and her performance as the main protagonist features her "action lady" persona that we are all familiar with, especially from her work in movies such as Lucy and as the deadly secret agent Black Widow in several installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the Major, Johansson delivers a very decent portrayal of an amnesiac cyborg starting to lose her touch with humanity. Okay, maybe her role here is cliched, from the mysterious past to the crime-fighting present history, but there is no doubt Johansson kicked butt as the movie's "Ghost in the Shell".

Michael Pitt is known for portraying rather chameleon-like characters, as in mysterious and peculiar behaving people who are just unpredictable. His role as Kuze, a seemingly villainous figure who carries a link to the Major's strange past, is again, much like most of the characters, cliched, but Pitt still pulls-off a good job.

Strangely, I cannot seem to find the words to properly judge the performances of the other cast mates. Personally, I blame the script for not really making a lot of the remaining characters unique from already established movie tropes. Despite this, though, the actors and actresses, at the minimum, put in some effort into their performances.

Asbæk, who portrays Batou, Mira's partner-in-crime-fighting, who is apparently a dog lover, has great non-romantic chemistry with Johansson's Mira. The legendary filmmaker "Beat" adds some energy to the movie as Major's superior in Section 9, and even having a standout moment for killing the movie's antagonist. Binoche and Ferdinando's performances are good as well.

Also, Rila Fukushima is here, as a hacked robot, who gets blown to bits in the opening sequence. Come on, guys.

Direction and Quality = (5/5)

I am sensing a rather annoying trend in the modern movie-making industry, and that is spending all of the money on the best cinematographers, editors and visual effects experts in the business, and just make the story as the least priority. Yeah, there have been plenty of movies with a good story and spectacular CGI, but if you have not noticed it by now, there are a lot of blockbusters with the best special effects money can buy, but rather unpolished scripts. This movie follows that trend, sadly.

Again, the cinematography by Jess Hall, the CGI and the designs, costumes, especially the Major's "thermo-optical camouflage" suit, make-up and sets included, are very, very well done. The futuristic setting, complete with large, holographic advertisements, shines brightly, especially in the night. Although, if I were to be honest on what I really feel, I am getting a tad bit tired the same-old, same-old designs, since I have already seen the same type of structural concepts in other films set in a not-so distant future like Blade Runner, but overall, I can say that they did an impressive work with them. Besides, it is already hard to picture out other potential futures when the future is getting closer and closer.

I would like to give some praise to the people who designed the set for the "human network". I admire just how creepy and unnerving it is to behold. And the design? Wow, it is just phenomenal.

It would really be a huge disappointment if a movie with this big budget had terrible fight sequences, and thankfully, with Rupert Sanders' steady hand, even though the movie lacks screenwriting creativity, we are offered to huge tons of visually stunning action scenes, which you may or may not consider as trying too hard to be in the same style as The Matrix's segments. However, do note that the magic of the fights might be undermined by the script's many problems, which is heartbreaking. The absolute best one is the opening part, wherein the Major fights hacked civilians in a geisha restaurant, while also using her camouflage suit to crash through the window as an entrance in slow-motion.

Like I said a few times before, I have a rusty memory, almost that of Logan's, so I decided to search the score done by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe, and while reviewing, it is unquestionably beautiful. When you close your eyes while listening to their musical pieces, it feels as if you are in a neo-noir cybernetically futuristic world, full of advancements. Sometimes, it make you feel as if you are in a different world. Trust me, I tried, and that is just how amazing the score sets the mood for the movie.

Story, Dialogue and Flow = (2/5)

Caution: spoilers ahead! Avert your eyes, immediately!

As much as I admire the artistically exquisite cinematography, there is almost absolutely nothing that I love or enjoy about the story. Remember, I said "almost". I may review movies for a living (not really), but I would never dismiss something as entirely terrible without dissecting each part carefully.

Like I said earlier before, how the characters are written in this adaptation is far inferior than how they were portrayed in the manga and the anime works. Imagine if you combine that, by today's standards, worn-out elements established by other cult classic works of science-fiction such as the two movies we mentioned awhile back, and most especially and obviously RoboCop, and trade-out all of the philosophical themes and concepts heavily discussed in the source material, for one-dimensional and cliched characterization. It is because that all of the characters were uninteresting, and the story ultimately lackluster. We will discuss the cliches later, but let us continue further on with the story.

How Kuze's motivations are explained in the movie, which is revealed to his acts of revenge against his creators for being left for dead after being marked as a failed experiment, is predictable, and the revelation that ... spoiler alert ... Kuze and the Major, were actually Japanese (?), were close friends in childhood felt rushed.

And speaking of these two being Japanese, this feels like a confirmation to the claims that the movie resorted to whitewashing. Okay, okay, I understand that the studio is aiming for international audience appeal in the form of Scarlett Johansson, and I would let that slide, and I would also accept an in-movie explanation that the reason they changed her appearance to that of Scarlett Johansson's as a form of "corporate decision" or whatever, but no. I am okay with Johansson's casting though. There was no doubt she was great for the role. It would have been better had they retained the nationality, or better yet, had the movie set somewhere else rather than Japan, or make a different movie, because why even set the movie in Japan when there are not even that much Japanese actors and actresses. Maybe I'm overthinking this part. 

But like I said, there are some good bits. For example, as evidenced through the dialogue, we get to explore a few tidbits of the Major's struggles of not being entirely human, given her condition of being part-machine. It is a clear sign that there was some thought put into the script. The idea that Hanka Robotics, Cutter's company, is kidnapping innocents for experiments, is horrifying, and would have made Cutter a much more despicable villain had the idea been further expanded upon. The concept's interconnected network of minds, like a inter-neural cyberspace, sounds fun, as well as that part wherein people can hack through machines with their minds, but like all these three, they were not explored thoroughly.


Ending, Originality and Story Fulfillment = (2/5)

Like I said, none of the characters are entirely interesting, and the cliches are everywhere, such as the Major being your "average cop of tomorrow with memory loss", Batou being the "less-serious partner", Cutter being the "secretly evil businessman treating the good guy like property", and Oulete as the "shady creator". Add that up with borrowed elements from all of the sci-fi movies we mentioned back, and you have enough evidence to label the story as "derivative", or "unoriginal".

And as expected, lead heroine recalls the past, shady figure sharing a past with the protagonist join forces to stop the main bad guy, and the rest of her colleagues work hand-in-hand to stop the main bad guy Cutter. With Doctor Ouelet dead, after helping the Major escape, Cutter unleashes hell with a "spider-tank", which is basically the ED-209 from, you guessed it, RoboCop, with a spider theme. Kuze dies, offering to have their minds joined like the one done in the anime. The disappointing about this ending is that the leading lady does not even get to kill Cutter herself, but it was Aramaki who pulled the trigger. It is not entirely disappointing, but it would make sense and would make the Major's story reach a full circle.

Overall, the movie is just as predictable as you could have guessed, and the ending, while having a fun battle, felt empty. I just hope they could have tried a little bit more. I know they did, but maybe a little bit more.

Overall Evaluation = (2/5)

Technically brilliant but narrative-wise shallow, this movie is just another expensive and boring techno thriller that unfortunately does not do its insanely popular source material much justice, but it is okay at best.

TOTAL = 14/25 (Okay?)

Scarlett Johansson's amazing acting chops are wasted on this dull and forgettable rendition of Ghost in the Shell, an adaptation that has all the style but none of the substance that made the manga and the anime versions great.


Hollywood is not gonna stop breaking fans hearts with many more, probably, adaptations, but we can always hope for a better possibility. But do remember not to hope too much, because I know how that felt while I was in Tenth Grade. Still, we have live-action versions of Akira and Death Note, with the latter to be shown through Netflix, a video-streaming giant known for some awesome programs, to wait-up for. Sigh. And with that, we end our review of Ghost in the Shell. And since we brought-up Death Note, here is the trailer, and if you are asking what I think about it, I would go with "I don't know". Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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