GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence, Suggestive Content and some Disturbing Images

Directed by: Rupert Sanders

Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger

(based on the manga GHOST IN THE SHELL by Masamune Shirow)

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche & Lasarus Ratuere

A live-action adaptation of GHOST IN THE SHELL has been in the works since 2008 and it comes as a hotly-anticipated big-budget release. 1995’s anime adaptation of the manga is widely considered to be one of the greatest animated movies of all-time and this 2017 tentpole release had quite a lot to live up to. However, fans of the original anime should calm their skeptical prejudgements and newcomers to the material should feel welcomed here. 2017’s GHOST IN THE SHELL is a somewhat brainy, visually stunning  blockbuster that will entertain moviegoers from start to finish.

In a future where technology has become more prevalent in our daily lives and citizens pay to have robotic upgrades surgically placed into their bodies, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind. Major has a human brain in a cybernetic body. She has the capabilities of a superhuman android and the willpower of a human. With the aid of her protective partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and the authority of Section 9 Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), Major is thrown into a search for deadly hacker Kuze (Michael Pitt). However, this hunt quickly turns into a conspiracy that goes far deeper than she ever imagined and Major begins to uncover dark secrets about her forgotten past.

There are distinct differences between the GHOST IN THE SHELL anime and this live-action movie that fans will undoubtedly identify. I have only seen the 1995 film, so that’s my basic knowledge of this franchise. It might be blasphemy to diehard fans of the material, but some of the changes made in this 2017 adaptation actually improved the story for me. On the other hand, certain changes did seem dumbed down a bit too much. The first thing that needs to be praised is this film’s look. Director Rupert Sanders knocked this atmosphere out of the park. The visuals are amazing (echoing a BLADE RUNNER-esque future) and the action scenes are stunning. This film’s moody music is original, but remains distinctly reminiscent of the 1995 score.

One improvement that 2017’s GHOST made over 1995’s GHOST is that Major has become a more relatable protagonist. The original film had Major waxing philosophical about the meaning of life and existence itself, all while looking pensive and feeling purposely hollow. This new film lets us see Scarlett Johansson’s perfectly-acted Major exploring her humanity and questioning her identity. Instead of talking about what separates her from other humans, she actually demonstrates it by touching someone to see how they feel and constantly deriding her own robotic features. A few twists pop in later on that further dive into Major’s past and I thought these bits made the film more exciting overall.

However, some new twists on the material are, unfortunately, very predictable. This new GHOST IN THE SHELL is stronger in the way it crafted Major to be a fleshed-out heroine, but weaker in the way it structured the overall story. You pretty much know where things are heading from the first frame. Certain clues are laid in advance to obviously set up plot points that arrive later on. The journey to and discovery of these would-be revelations is fun to watch, but there are spots where this film occasionally slows to crawl. I found myself twiddling my thumbs and waiting for characters to discover things that the audience already knew in advance. Still, the plot’s predictability doesn’t put too big of a damper on things, because the action scenes are stellar and the overall style is awesome.

Fans of the GHOST IN THE SHELL anime will likely have a good time watching this film because it replicates certain scenes straight out of the original film. There’s just different context thrown behind them. I do wish this movie had been rated R, but the PG-13 rating only popped into my head during one scene (which seems like it was significantly edited down for a softer rating). As for the rest of the supporting cast, Michael Pitt did a solid job as villainous Kuze, whose backstory is significantly different from the source material’s antagonist. Takeshi Kitano (who I will always know as the coach from BATTLE ROYALE) gets his share of bad-ass moments as the Section 9 chief. Meanwhile, Danish actor Pilou Asbaek makes a perfect Batou. He has his share of comic relief moments and seems like a lovable sidekick.

2017’s GHOST IN THE SHELL is a visually awesome, action-packed, and (somewhat) brainy piece of sci-fi entertainment. Though the story may have been dumbed down in this new version of the material, the disconnected main character has been built up in an improved way. This movie has its pieces of fan service, while remaining accessible to moviegoers who aren’t familiar with the material. The cast is pretty great, with Scarlett Johansson easily putting in the best performance as Major. If you want a cool science-fiction actioner, then GHOST IN THE SHELL should satisfy your cinematic craving!

Grade: B+

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