Ghost in the Shell is one of those movies that despite never seeing it, I am aware of its significance and critical acclaim. The Japanese created animated film was released in 1995 and still looks better than most animation created today in 2017.
I was surprised to learn of the live action American adaptation of the movie because of the standards of the original. It is a lose lose situation for a movie studio to re-make such a beloved story as it will always be compared to the original that is barely 20 years old. Ignoring the inevitable backlash, Dream Works bought the rights to the movie, attached a beautiful and popular American actress to play the main role, and threw over $100 million dollars at it.
As a heterosexual male I find Scarlett Johansson to be one of the most attractive human beings on the planet. On physical appearance alone she is an obvious draw but I believe she is a worthy actress to compliment her beauty. Some of her most impressive roles are in the movies Ghost World, Lost in Translation, The Prestige, and I even liked her in lesser films such as The Perfect Score and Lucy. In addition to Lucy, Johansson has experience in action movies playing Black Widow in all of the 112,234, 231 Marvel movies. Her experience, decent acting, and sex appeal make Johansson an obvious pick to play the lead in a science-fiction movie that has a young male demographic. Or does it?
Whitewashing is still extremely prevalent in American film. Gods of Egypt staring Gerald Butler was released in 2016, Exodus: Gods and Kings came out in 2014 staring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, and also in 2014 Edge of Tomorrow (based on a Japanese Manga title All you Need is Kill) was released starring Tom Cruise. American movie studios are still operated by old rich white dudes who live in a reality where anyone other than white Americans playing lead roles in movies will result in a failure. Ghost in the Shell is no exception to that outdated way of thinking.
The movie takes place in future Japan and is based on a Japanese manga and still only Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson were considered to play the lead, which added to the negativity surrounding the movie. Coincidently the movie bombed in the United States earning about $40 million and did well in the rest of the world including Japan earning over $100 million.
With all of that said, Scarlett Johansson played her role well. As a cyborg with a human brain most of her movements and dialogue where that of a robot and computer. This role doesn’t require an academy award worthy performance but it could have been done poorly. Understanding and bonding with the Ghost (human brain) in the Shell (robotic body) as she learned about her true past is essential to the little enjoyment to be had in the movie.
I knew as I entered the theater that this movie was not receiving a lot of praise but I still wanted to see it on the big screen with the thought that even if the movie wasn’t great I still would be able to stare creepily at Johansson and be mesmerized by the cyber punk world the movie resides in. I predicted it would similar to watching Avatar; a below average movie with unbelievable special effects.
Minus a few scenes (when Johansson is hacking another cyborg to learn about its past) Ghost in the Shell didn’t look remarkable. The effects and CG weren’t bad but they weren’t exceptional like I was expecting. The overhead city shots, the spider tank, and even the robotic augmentations on humans looked ordinary. I assumed the majority of the $100 million plus budget went into special effects but they didn’t feel like $100 million effects.
The source material makes for an interesting and thought provoking science-fiction action movie. Cyborgs made up completely of robotic parts but with an aware human brain and conscience creates a unique and mysterious character trying to learn more about their past life and how to live in their current one. I didn’t hate the movie but I didn’t like it either which is almost the worst place a movie can find itself in. Ghost in the Shell turned a historically acclaimed anime into a mediocre and forgettable American live action adaptation that left me asking why it was ever made.
I look forward to finally watching the original.