Thanks to Paramount Pictures we had the chance to see ‘Ghost in the Shell’ before its national release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
It’s a funny thing when the most futuristic film in recent memory feels as nostalgic as Ghost in the Shell does. It’s hard not to compare it to the Mamoru Oshii‘s groundbreaking animated 1995 original, but it’s important to review it on its own terms. So I’ll do both here.
The movie opens with a nicely done sequence of the implantation of a human brain into a robotic body – the body of the Major, played by Scarlett Johansson. She’s informed that she’s been rescued from an accident and that her body couldn’t be saved so she’s been transformed into a cyborg. She becomes an operative for the secretive Section 9, and starts to pursue a mysterious, terrifying hacker that has been targeting people in the robotic augmentation industry. This is the beginning of a sequence of mysteries and conspiracies unfolding dramatically between zippy action scenes with her partner, the hulking Batou (Pilou Asbæk), culminating in a stunning fight for survival.
The movie suffers in comparison to the original in opting for a more Hollywood-friendly “hero’s journey” orphan-chosen-one origin story, whereas the movie’s Major was a wisecracking, battle-hardened veteran just taking on another case. Instead of the plot developments forcing the major to contemplate her nature as a mostly robotic cyborg (the original was very talky), it features scenes of rather hamfisted exposition from other characters just to make sure you’re keeping up. This doesn’t make it a bad movie, but it feels like a serious dumbing-down of the enigmatic original if you’re familiar with it. Johansson is fine as a confused, partly robotic heroine thanks to her trademark blank expression (utilised to unnerving effect in Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin), but here she slightly lacks the brutal, intimidating physical presence required of the Major. Her purposeful robotic walk is also a little funnier than was probably intended at times.
Where the movie truly scores is in its incredibly rich art direction. Its Asian megacity doesn’t feel particularly real, but it feels about as close to the world in the pages of a William Gibson cyberpunk novel as is ever likely to be committed to the big screen. In keeping with the cyberpunk theme there are a lot of retro touches, like Batou driving a barely-disguised Lotus Esprit. The action is also solid, pounding stuff and worth the price of entry.
Should you see it? Yes! It’s not as cerebral as the original and being a semi-faithful remake has that inevitable hint of pointlessness to it, but it’s also a fun, pleasingly schlocky action movie and visually pretty remarkable. And a side note: I’m not a big fan of 3D cinema in general, but it feels an incredibly appropriate stylistic choice for this film, and so I’d actually recommend you see the 3D version. And if you haven’t, you also need to watch the classic original. And see the original theatrical version of that film, not the 2.0 remastering that was released in 2008 that feels as butchered as those ghastly Special Edition Star Wars re-releases.