Review: GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Review: GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Review: GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Based on Masamune Shirow's manga and various anime movie/series incarnations of the same name, this live-action adaptation of GHOST IN THE SHELL revolves around Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johannson), a human-cyborg hybrid who lead an anti-cyberterrorism task force of Section 9 alongside her partner, Batou (Pilou Asbæk). When a mysterious hacker named Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt) is planning to sabotage Hanka Robotics' cyber technology, Major Mira Killian's latest mission soon led her to uncover the shady truth behind the company she works for.


REVIEW: Hollywood often gets a bad rep when it comes to adapting manga or anime into live-action features. Remember how they used to bastardise movies like DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION (2009) and to a certain extent, KITE (2014)?

Now, here comes another latest attempt and this time, it was a live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow's 1989 cyberpunk manga classic of Ghost in the Shell. The title, of course, was later made famous by director Mamoru Oshii in the 1995 anime feature of the same name. Widely regarded as one of the landmark animes in the history of Japanese cinema, Oshii's GHOST IN THE SHELL has inspired many future filmmakers including the Wachowskis of the MATRIX fame and also spawned numerous anime features and TV series such as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Ghost in the Shell: Arise.

The Hollywood version of GHOST IN THE SHELL, which is directed by Rupert Sanders, doesn't exactly inspires confidence. After all, the English director was responsible for the critically-maligned SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Although the 2012 movie was visually ravishing, the same could not be said with the underdeveloped cast as well as the plot and the direction. In fact, it was one of the worst movies I've ever seen during that year.

But the good news is, Sanders does show some minor improvements over the last five years since Sanders made his feature-length debut in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Visually speaking, GHOST IN THE SHELL is packed with stunning imagery while some of the key set-pieces (e.g. the famous water fight from the 1995 anime feature and the shootout against the corrupted robo-geisha servants seen in the Season 1's first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) are lovingly recreated here with all the gloss and shine of a slickly-packaged Hollywood movie. The special effects are equally top-notch, while Jess Hall's cinematography is appropriately moody. The only downside is the Hong Kong-inspired futuristic setting, which could have been better if Sanders and production designer Jan Roelfs doesn't go too far with their overdesigned, huge hologram billboard-heavy cityscape.

Review: GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Still, being a fan of the 1995 anime feature and the TV series, Sanders' live-action take of GHOST IN THE SHELL pales heavily in comparison. Gone are the anime's complex themes such as corporate greed, political corruption and the deep meaning of "being human". Instead, screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger take bits and pieces from the anime feature and the TV series, reconstruct and streamline everything into a standard good vs. evil storyline featured in countless Hollywood sci-fi movies. Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe's techno-tinged score is adequate but far from impressive, while Kenji Kawai's famous theme from the 1995 anime feature can only be heard during the end credits.

As for the cast, Scarlett Johansson looks the part as the crimefighting human-cyborg hybrid. Given her prior experience in action-heavy roles seen in LUCY (2014) as well as playing the famous Black Widow character in various Marvel movies, Johansson has the ideal physicality and agility to make it work. Likewise, she is also fetching and easy on the eyes. Although her new character is still no match with the iconic Major Motoko Kusanagi in both anime feature and TV series, she remains decent enough in this Hollywood version. Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, best known in TV's Borgen, fails to make a lasting impression as Batou while legendary Japanese actor and director 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano is sadly miscast as Section 9 chief, Aramaki. The only compliment I can say about him is the brief scene where he mumbles "Don't send a rabbit to catch a fox" in Japanese after gunning down the assailants with his antique pistol in a classic yakuza/cowboy style. Michael Carmen Pitt is largely forgettable as Kuze. Perhaps the biggest mistake here is Sanders' ill-advised decision of altering Kuze's otherwise charismatic-terrorist appearance seen in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG episodes.

Even if I see this as a standalone movie, GHOST IN THE SHELL still feels like a missed opportunity.

Rupert Sanders' live-action version of GHOST IN THE SHELL is visually stunning but lacks the heart and "ghost" (i.e. "soul") to make this movie a standout.

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