This is a spoiler-free review.
Just because one watches a lot of movies and appreciates this kind of art extensively, does not necessarily mean that he or she is in a position to be able to write good film reviews too. I am more of a games reviewer kind of guy and yet, when a movie like this one manages to get my attention in such an amazing way, then I cannot avoid writing a review in order to fully compile all of my thoughts about it in one piece of text so that I can share it with all the people I wanted to tell about it in the most excited manner, thus also missing few parts here and there. Chat does not do such a movie justice when it comes to recommending it to others. Therefore, here is my review for the recently released in cinemas, Ghost in the Shell.
I feel as if we need to first address a few issues that arise whenever I try to talk about the movie and why I enjoyed it. As soon as I told some strangers online (through an online community chat I am in) they immediately replied with comments on the whitewashing of the movie and all that. After a few words here and there, it came to the point where it was just blaming each other for not respecting the fact that there is an issue and actually not doing something about it. It got to the point that people said we should be boycotting the movie because of that. Now, while I find whitewashing obviously to be a problem, what I want to do here is just respect the movie for what it is despite whatever happened. So, do yourself a favor just for the sake of this review and just think of the art that is discussed here. That is indeed, neglecting the fact that there is a problem with whitewashed movies, but I would like, for once, to be able to talk about art without looking at the 1.000 reasons why the world is messed up.
So, despite all that then, I can start off by saying that the cast was just as on point as it could be. Scarlett Johansson in the role of major is exactly what this movie needed in order to be a huge success. Her acting seemed so surprisingly good, but that is because I am probably used to seeing her in movies where she plays the pretty girl or movies that do not require much acting skill in order to make a character be what it needs to be. As Major, she looked as troubled as she needed to be and at the same time as fierce as the Major was in the anime. There is not much else one can say about her since she was a really good choice when it came to choosing who will show us who Major really is and how she fits in the world of Ghost in the Shell.
Batou and Aramaki are the two other characters that really stand out in this and both of them for very good reasons. Pilou Asbæk (Batou) has this more earthly character, compared to Major’s, and really allows for the confusion that envelopes Major’s mind to shine as he goes on to talk to her about all sorts of things through short dialogues that, if you compare it to the original, you can tell that they were simplified for the adaptation. Takeshi Kitano (Aramaki) on the other hand is a more rigid character that although he is very important and powerful as a figure, we only realize that later in the movie since his character builds up through short sequences.
I read quite a few reviews of the movie before even going to see it but I have become pretty good over the years at avoiding being influenced by other reviewers when writing my own for something. That being said, most of the reviews had a lot to say about how the movie was slow in its third phase or so where Major tries to explore her personality more. Not going to spoil anything but I will say that I can totally understand why someone would find it slow. I believe people are not really accustomed, or more likely even ready, to be able to watch and fully grasp a movie like that. The movie had to be adapted in a certain way to appeal to larger audiences but at the same time, in order to still be good at what it is, it had to still be the slow cyberpunk, full of meaning, kind of stuff we are used to seeing in other movies of its kind. So, I do agree in that perspective that the movie was somewhat niche in a way. Nonetheless, that does not make it any less of an excellent depiction of what a good live action adaptation for the original Ghost in the Shell could be and actually turned out to be. Beautifully done cinematic art in so many ways.
Homage is paid to the original in the best ways too. Look-alike scenes and lots of haunting and ambient synthwave-ish tunes to give us that somewhat dark and mysterious futuristic cyberpunk feeling. The cinematography, and in turn the photography of course, of the entire movie is simply exquisite. You would think that the scene before the action starts or the one of the aftermath of a fight would be the ones that are the most pretty ones in the entire movie and the ones that you would probably remember after the movie finishes. However, Ghost in the Shell keeps you hooked through its entire duration with beautiful and unique shots every now and then that keep you in awe. The moment Major is about to jump off a building with all the night lights of Hong Kong in the background, the time Batou throws back his robe in a somewhat slow-motion to pull out his machine gun, or the beautiful shot through the window showing Aramaki in the orange-neon lit night going to his car, all well done in their own way. Contrast in both light and colour is superbly important in the movie, since, despite the neon lights that bright up the fancy parts of the Hong Kong inspired town, the more dim lit areas give you the antithesis that a cyberpunk movie needs to have. One moment you see gloriously huge holographic advertisements that have godly figures posing and the next you are in a lawless area where people do not really seem to be living on the good side of things.
What is also very interesting, is the fact that unlike many other movies of this kind that show one or two scenes of the town, in order to showcase how vast and futuristic the place is, Ghost in the Shell repeatedly reminds us of that by repeatedly showing us both eagle’s eye shots, as well as ones of the town beneath all the neon signs, by following the footsteps of Major and Batou who walk or drive through the town. Stim dealers, augmented prostitutes and signs that call out cybercriminals all tell us how realistic a future like this can be and how much all of that future is not just frontline holographic imagery. Even the creepiness of robots looking too much like humans is visited through some of the scenes, to the point that Major has to ask someone “are you human?” The scene, early in the movie, with the amazing looking robot Geishas (as seen on the trailer too) is proper preparation for what is to come in the rest of the movie.
The scenes showing clean and elegant laboratory labs are entirely countered by the scenes in the bar where all sorts of people and things of the underground can be seen. What got my attention the most was the office room of one of Hanka Robotics’ high corporate members looked like. It was a room so carefully planned and made to look high-class through means like bamboo plants and little fountains, basically things that would seem rather rare in a futuristic world like the one of Ghost in the Shell.
Even the random background actors, or the ones with very small roles, seemed very well designed and played out. It is somewhat amazing what one little cybernetic enhancement on a human being can do in order to set him/her apart from the rest of its kind. The movie touches on all of those things time and again and is basically the very essence of it, so it was nice to see the detail that the cinematography went to in order to enhance the visual part of it even more. It is even haunting to see, know and realize why people dropped their human parts for an upgrade. That part was probably my favourite one since I believe it is really hard for a movie to be able to pass on all these messages through 1 hour and 47 minutes.
I can easily say that I liked this one more than the original one. The reason why is because this one was easier to watch and although it didn’t provoke as much thinking as the original did, it was enjoyable because seeing real people enact such a future felt more real than seeing sketched characters do the same. Maybe it is the fact that we are more accepting of, and also used to, fantasy on paper than we are when real people enact it in movies and the effects are so well done in order to accommodate that made-up reality.
Also worth mentioning that lots of movies that are made into 3D usually make you dizzy, more than one would expect. I believe that the movie did a good job even on that part though since it was enjoyable and comfortable to watch in 3D as well. I will most definitely be rewatching it non-3D when it comes out on DVD though, just so that I can notice some of the finer details in the background.
Trust me when I say that if you have just read the complaints about why the movie would be bad and just watched the trailer, then you are probably in for a huge surprise. I found it personally to be what I would now call my favourite movie of all time but I am of course very much biased, being a cyberpunk fan and all. I strongly recommend you watch it if you like movies of its kind and even more if you are a fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise.
-Konstantinos “Kelfecil” Christakis