Friday, March 31, 2017 marks the official theatrical release of Ghost in the Shell, the live-action film adaptation of the eponymous manga and anime film franchise. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the early press screening the preceding Wednesday, courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Allied Marketing, and Regal Cinemas. Due to a media embargo, publication of this previously-written review was delayed until today in order to comply with our press agreement.
Based on the aforementioned original 1989 manga series and subsequent 1995 anime film series by creator Masamune Shirow, and set in an incredibly technologically advanced Pan-Asian world in 2029, Ghost in the Shell tells the story of Major Mira Killian (played by Scarlett Johansson), a prototype cybernetic humanoid comprised of a sophisticated android body powered entirely by a human brain, and of course the mind or “ghost” contained within. When Mira awakens, she is told that she has been rescued from near-death after a terrorist attack destroyed the boat she and her family were traveling on, that her body was beyond repair, leading to this first-of-its-kind medical breakthrough. This was all made possible by the HANKA Corporation and its mysterious benefactor Cutter (Peter Ferdinando of 300: Rise of an Empire), who are looking to use this new technology to prolong human life.
Fast-forward one year later, and Major Mira is now working for Section 9, an elite government-sponsored anti-terrorism task force led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano of Battle Royale, Johhny Mnemonic). There, alongside her 2nd-in-Command Batou (Pilou Asbæk of Game of Thrones, Lucy) Major uses her abilities to investigate and eliminate various terrorist attacks, particularly of the cyber-terrorism variety due to the highly advanced technology and ability for humans to enhance themselves by augmenting their bodies with cybernetic parts.
After investigating one such incident, Major and her team uncover that there is a prolific cyber-terrorist targeting HANKA, the very corporation that funded the creation of Major’s android body. During this investigation, however, Major comes to learn that she might not have been told the whole truth, or any of the truth at all, about who she really is, what she really is, or where she really came from. This leads us down a complex techno-rabbit hole, chock-full of mystery, intrigue, and more than a few existential questions of one’s identity and the concepts of privacy and consent. But, in the interest of remaining SPOILER-FREE, I won’t say any more about it, just go watch and see for yourselves!
To begin with, it is exceptionally difficult to properly adapt any anime into a live-action film, as the formats just don’t ever seem to translate very well, with Shûsuke Kaneko‘s 2006 adaptation of Death Note being about the only exception I can think of, and taking on something like Ghost in the Shell – which is widely considered by countless fans and critics alike as one of, if not the greatest anime of all time – is an entirely new level. That being said, this film rises to the challenge and absolutely delivers. Director Rupert Sanders alongside Dreamworks Pictures and a production team featuring Marvel Studios’ own Avi Arad take on this daunting task with a reported $110,000,000 budget and bring the ridiculously technologically advanced, corporate dominated futuristic setting to life with cinematography, special effects, and most notably visuals that are positively breathtaking if not outright award-worthy.
Scarlett Johansson‘s performance as Major/Mira/Motoko is outstanding as well, with her own android-like expressions and existential crisis of identity on full display to damn-near perfectly portray the character. This is perhaps her best performance to date, which whether by her own character acting ability or the character just fitting her own style of acting so perfectly, just goes to reinforce the initial casting decision. Yes, there was a small and overtly-loud group of your typical internet slacktivists (or “SJW’s” if you must) who tried to raise a huge stink about this fact, and yes, they may influence some other critics on this film, but quite frankly, they’re wrong. For as much as this extremist minority may disagree, this isn’t about them, no more than it was about the other extremist minoirty when they jumped all over Will Smith being cast (as one of the very few bright spots, mind you) in Suicide Squad. In truth, this was a wonderful treatment of the character, to say nothing of a strong female protagonist dominating a motion picture without falling into the tired cinematic tropes too often attached to these types of characters.
That being said, this was not a perfect film, either. While both Pilou Asbæk and Takeshi Kitano were outstanding in their roles as well, many of the other supporting cast seemingly fell rather flat, with a notable example being Michael Pitt, whose portrayal of Hideo Kuzem while visually fantastic, still felt somewhat underwhelming, and should have been better developed given the gravity and importance of the character. In fact, the entire film could have actually done well with just a bit more overall runtime, especially considering the massive world the filmmakers were trying to establish here.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is a rare example of a live-action anime adaptation done right. It’s visually stunning, highly entertaining, and fantastically character driven. Johansson’s performance is outstanding, and the story itself doesn’t stray too far at all from the source material. While this is certainly not a film for everyone, and some moviegoers may not like the more character driven sci-fi, as opposed to the at times more digestable action-movie sci-fi they might be used to, this still stands as a testament to both quality science fiction and well-done adaptations. While I’ve no doubt some other critics out there will probably find reasons to trash this film, I assure you, dear readers, it is absolutely worth seeing… especially in 3D or IMAX for these amazing visuals. – 8.5/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine