Ghost in the Shell.
I had absolutely zero knowledge about Ghost in the Shell before heading into the theater, only knowing that it was based on an anime. I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I also knew about the controversy of “white washing” the casting by choosing Scarlett Johansson. So I was curious if that argument was a legitimate one. Let’s see, shall we?
We meet Scarlett Johansson as a robot named “Major,” who has been given a human brain. She’s supposedly the first one of her kind and serves as a police officer in a futuristic version of Japan. She has a human partner named Batou (played by Danish actor Pilou Asbaek) and is given orders by a man named Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano). They discover that someone is hacking into secret databases and eliminating people that have something to do with a secret classified experiment, somehow related to Major. We also have French actress Juliette Binoche as a doctor who is somewhat responsible for creating Major.
This movie is directed by Rupert Sanders, whose only other mainstream release was Snow White and the Huntsman.
A lot of things work for this movie, surprisingly. The star of the show is really our setting, with some visuals that will astound you. The way this city comes alive is fantastic, with holograms and technology everywhere. The movie treats you intelligently and doesn’t explain any of this technology but you gather enough info to at least figure out most of it. It’s visually fantastic and every time we get action sequences in the main city, it’s a real treat.
I also have to say that Scarlett gives a decent performance as our lead. She’s not going to win any awards but I totally bought the performance and was compelled by her journey. Let’s address the white-washing. There’s not a lot to say here but I think most of the controversy is a bit bloated because the movie explains that she’s a robot, she’s not supposed to appear as a Japanese woman. Maybe in the anime she was supposed to be? The cast (and our world they live in) is extremely international, so it’s not like Johansson was the only odd one out either. There are story plot points that occur throughout the movie that somewhat explain her role as well, though I can’t really discuss those without spoilers. I didn’t mind and she gave a performance that is fairly convincing for the role.
The action sequences are fine but somewhat rare. They’re also prone to 300-style action where everything slows and speeds up for effect. I could’ve used more, which leads into…
What doesn’t work?
This movie, for all of its outlandish visuals and action, is actually somewhat boring, especially in the second half of the film. They remove our cast from the big city, focus on interpersonal conflicts, and have plenty of dialogue, screeching our movie almost to a halt. I know they had to cover tons of content to get from point A to point B but the second half was just really slow comparatively. On the first half of the movie alone, I was pleasantly surprised, but it lost most momentum.
We also get a villain in the second half that is not very creative, especially considering how intriguing our world is.
Ghost in the Shell is an oddity, that the first half is gorgeous and intriguing. The world they’ve created here is incredibly compelling. However, that slows down in the second half, giving us a somewhat cliche villain and taking away the colors and personality that were keeping us entertained. It’s a boring journey in that second half, dropping this score down quite a bit. Is the movie bad? No. It’s partially great and partially disappointing.