Yawn In The Shell

The life-action Ghost In The Shell (GITS) movie is pretty forgettable. Sure, they mostly nailed the visuals. But it’s 2017 and movies shouldn’t get points anymore for just “looking good”. All the tentpole movies do.

VFX on par, story bland

Of course the original anime was heavy on amazing visuals. But it was the 1990s and back then this kind of stuff had never been seen before. GITS (1995) even slowed down at one point, showing scenes of futuristic city life that didn’t advance the story but were simply jaw-dropping. Somebody actually hand-animated all of this! Fast forward to 2017 and rendering shot after shot of a futuristic Tokyo really isn’t all that impressive anymore. Yeah, you can have the industry circle-jerk about how innovative their VFX were just as they do after every effects-laden movie. But come on… yawn!

The GITS movie feels like it came late to a party. The original anime, while certainly not inventing gritty cyberpunk, influenced cinema and genres for years. In a way you could call the Matrix movies the first life-action adaptations of GITS. Now, in 2017, everything in GITS seems like it has been done before. So did the story at least bring something new to the table?

Unfortunately, the story of GITS feels pretty bland. To say that it “explores” its central issues like what it means to be human in an age where people enhance their physical bodies with computer interfaces is a gross overstatement. Most people in the movie’s universe don’t care and get along well with their cyber-enhancements. We are told that a teenage hot-head once said that technology needed to be destroyed. That’s about it.

Of course the GITS anime – when viewed on its own – is also heavy on pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo. Its sequel (Ghost in the Shell Innocence) even more so. But GITS has spawned a couple of spin-offs (the “Stand Alone Complex” series for example) that fills the franchise’s futuristic world with details and the special forces team called “Section 9” with life (and cute robots). The GITS movie doesn’t seem to pull anything from this.

Tropes, tropes, tropes

GITS really feels dumbed-down. In the movie’s first couple of minutes somebody explains to you that “Ghost” means mind and “Shell” means body. The boss of the shady high-tech robotics company straight-out declares the newly-built Scarlet Johansson cyborg a “weapon” in a voice that says “I’m the boss of a shady high-tech robotics company and will definitely be the antagonist later when she finds out what we did to her.”

The movie then continues to visit all the lame action-movie tropes like the bad guy switching an automatic weapon system to “manual mode” so he can miss his target more easily and ultimately get defeated. A tank does the cliché clicking/snarling sound from Predator that’s usually used for organic critters approaching a victim.

The movie then devolves into a cringe-worthy scene between Scarlet Johansson (“Major”) and a former friend and/or lover who also got turned into a cyborg that feels like a prom queen politely refusing the awkward advances of a pimple-faced nerd.

The Casting Controversy

But wait, wasn’t there some kind of controversy surrounding the movie? Something about Scarlet Johansson playing a Japanese character? (I’ve talked about this issue in a German post about Cloud Atlas). Well… the Japanese audience didn’t seem to care (the movie flopped in the US but made some bucks in Asia) so who are we to judge.

The casting is bad for a different reason. It actually harms the story as well as suspension of disbelief. At one point, “Major” is confused about living in a robot body. She visits a hooker who tells her that getting touched by her feels different. “What are you?” the hooker asks with a confused face. And rightly so. Even in the world of GITS the technology of putting somebody’s actual brain into a fully cybernetic bodies is bleeding-edge. Johansson is the first of her kind.

“Major” then finds out her past and meets her mom – an old Japanese lady. In an already unbelievable scene that woman immediately invites Johansson into her home and starts an exposition dump about her deceased daughter – Major’s former identity – because Johansson “reminds her of her daughter”. She talks English with a noticeable accent since apparently she recognises Johansson as non-Japanese. But when she realises that Johansson is in fact her former daughter she doesn’t mention a single word about that fact. No “you don’t look anything like her anymore” or “what are you” or “it feels strange hugging you”.

The whole boring movie could have been taken up a notch by simply having the mother acknowledge that her daughter now has a cybernetic, western-looking body.

But that didn’t occur to anybody who had a say in the creation of this movie. And that says everything you need to know about it: GITS 2017 is an effort at making some bucks by bringing 20-year old anime visuals to a life-action movie. Nothing more.

6 out of 10 – the “don’t spend money on this even if you are a fan” level

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