Ghost in the Shell might not be as cerebral as its inspiration, but has the right dose of action and psychedelic futurism to cast a spell on its viewers.
2.8 out of 5 (Fairly Good)
| Vighnesh Menon (NOWRUNNING)
The biggest 'whitewashing' row since Doctor Strange, Ghost in the Shell finally graces the silver screen, holding its own against its legendary source material. It is not another cookie-cutter franchise builder but a Hollywood remake that is breath-taking in its own right.
The film's leading lady Scarlett Johansson might fool you into thinking that Ghost in the Shell is just another version of Luc Besson's Lucy(2014). But, it is a remake of a hugely influential anime directed by Mamoru Oshii, whose content is so strong that even a half-baked adaptation of it would sell. English director Rupert Sanders takes over the reins from Oshii and produces a modern interpretation of the cyberpunk world with great panache. Unlike the original, Sanders' film is a character study of its protagonist, Major Mira Killian(Johansson), more than anything else. Where Oshii dives into hard-boiled philosophy and character ambiguity, Sanders caters to the masses with crowd-friendly, PG-13 action and watered-down ideas. Here, he is more interested in humanizing Johansson's half-robot, half-human character and delving into her backstory, so that his story and his protagonist would get more longevity. Additionally, the presence of a superstar like Johansson inadvertently draws all attention towards her instead of the equally compelling supporting characters.
Ghost in the Shell is a gripping sci-fi action film with jaw-dropping visuals and set-pieces. Sanders envisions the futurism in the story by building plenty of interactive spaces within the city of Tokyo. The neon-heavy sets, synthwave music, magnetic visual effects and the look of each character do absolute justice to the manga and anime which inspired it. The film essentially feels like the lovechild of Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn, at least when it comes to the mise-en-scene. The action scenes are all well choreographed, despite the occasional overuse of slow-motion. And we know that Johansson is already a pro at destroying her enemies, thanks to her action-based performances as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Nonetheless, the fans of the original will be let down by the route taken by the new Ghost in the Shell, where it sacrifices a lot of its overlapping story structure for dumbed-down dialogues and clumsily rearranged sequences. Also, Pilou Asbaek's Batou, who has a huge hand in shaping the events of the anime, is reduced to a sidekick. The relationship between him and Major does not click either, as they share screen space only during action sequences. Lastly, Sanders takes the most Hollywoodized creative liberty by introducing a straightforward villain in Cutter(Peter Ferdinando), the CEO of Hanka Robotics who turns rogue just like that. Note that Oshii's Ghost in the Shell had no real antagonist except the conscience which worked commonly in humans and humanoids.
For a large part of the film, the 'whitewashing' accusations sound baseless because of the international cast involved. They play fresh characters and represent a worldwide demographic to show that the the story concerns a worldwide phenomenon. But the ending, somehow spoils it by revealing Major's origins, which again validates the allegations. If the controversial casting can be ignored, there is a lot more to absorb from Ghost in the Shell, which is right in the middle of a commercial sci-fi film and a visceral moral tale.
Critic: Vighnesh Menon
2.8 out of 5 (Fairly Good)
WHAT THE RATINGS MEAN:
0.0 - 1.4 : Poor
1.5 - 1.7: Poor, A Few Good Parts
1.8 - 2.3: Average
2.4 - 2.9: Fairly Good
3.0 - 3.4: Good
3.5 - 5.0: Very Good