Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Caught a screening of Ghost in the Shell. This adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s influential anime—itself an adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga series—has attracted some controversy, but I’m going to look past that and judge the film on its own merits (though I must admit, Rinko Kikuchi would have been a perfect Major).



In terms of cyberpunk world-building, director Rupert Sanders crafts an immaculate vision of a dystopian future, filling the frame with small but revealing details—for example, a random pedestrian wearing a fishbowl-sized helmet that keeps him constantly connected to the internet, the next logical (albeit exaggerated) evolution of society’s online immersion. The overarching narrative—a somewhat generic tale of unethical mega-corporations, as opposed to the source material’s complex web of government corruption and inter-bureau rivalry—does frequently struggle to be as interesting as these briefly-glimpsed background stories. Thankfully, it retains the compelling question at the heart of the franchise: How do we define life, sentience, and identity in the digital age?


Some strong performances kept me invested in the action even when the plot floundered. Scarlett Johansson tends to be hit-or-miss for me, but here, she absolutely nails the semi-synthetic protagonist’s emotional distance (and that’s not a backhanded compliment: playing robots is a tricky tightrope act). It helps that, as in Captain America: Winter Soldier, she has excellent chemistry with her male costar, Pilou Asbaek (playing macho sweetheart Batou, my favorite character from the original and its sequel, Innocence). And, of course, there’s Beat Takeshi, who, at seventy-years-old, has “cool” down to a science; watching him gun down overconfident punks remains as exhilarating the fiftieth time as it was the first. “Never send a rabbit to kill a fox,” indeed.



At the end of the day, Ghost in the Shell is no Blade Runner, but it’s still an enjoyable work of pulp sci-fi, and I’d happily follow the continuing adventures of this particular cast. If nothing else, it’s reignited my interest in seeing Avalon, Mamoru Oshii’s live-action Polish-language thriller. Any movie that inspires me to seek out other, more obscure movies must have some value in the greater scheme of things.


[Originally written April 9, 2017.]

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