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Whenever a film becomes covered in pre-release controversy, it’s gotten so lately that because the subject has usually not been viewed before irate venters have unleashed their vitriol on social media, I actually hope that once the movie is released, the complainers have to eat crow, having made a judgment sight unseen, if that prejudgment was incorrect.

In the case of Ghost in the Shell, the American live-action adaptation of Shirō Masamune’s popular manga-turned-anime, I can report that all the early derision logged for months against the film is completely and utterly deserved.

In the future, a company called Hanka wants to create robots with human intelligence.  This is where we find one such creature, the most perfected of all their experiments, dubbed The Major, a petite, extremely curvaceous female-shaped droid containing a human brain.  She could be employed to any number of interests or activities, but Hanka’s head honcho wants to use her as a weapon of unsurpassed skill in combat - hand-to-hand, firearms and deep espionage.  When world leaders begin to be knocked off like so many flies and important international data stolen, The Major’s Section 9 team is called in to uncover and stop the shadowy figure behind these attacks.  This shouldn’t be the hardest task they’ve faced, but the mysterious terrorist seems to know Hanka’s moves a little too well.  On top of that, the main member of the elite squad, The Major, is experiencing unexplained “glitches” popping up in the middle of missions, blinding her with visions of scenes her programming has never witnessed before – or has it?

When you have a project that is saddled with as much background baggage going in as Ghost in the Shell, one might think the filmmakers would have worked twice as hard to prove the haters wrong?  Nah.  It lives down to every expectation.

It’s hard to figure out what is right with this movie, or how anyone behind it thought such a lead balloon would ever fly?  There’s precious little that is exciting or entertaining about Ghost in the Shell on its most basic and visceral levels.  We can see that the producers made a definite point to include iconic moments and scenes from the manga and anime, but otherwise, the script is dull as dishwater and dumb as a sock.  The direction is slack and meandering, the acting at best uneven, at worst, awful, and unforgivably, the action is the some of the most boring and effort-free I’ve seen in a film that is intended to be an “action blockbuster.”  There is nothing innovative or thought-provoking here.

The Japan that exists in this film is a passing fancy; a vague notion.  It’s a mere element of design that pops up sometimes.  It’s almost a fetish, as with its geisha robots that serve and entertain international bigwigs (Ironically, the only interesting visual effect), and the chintzy-looking, warmed-over Blade Runner redux visuals.  The actors couldn’t even be buggered enough about the source material or environment to learn to pronounce the smattering of Japanese words in the script properly; the Hanka robotics name was transformed into something that sounded like (Tom) Hank(s)-ah, depending on which character – including the head of the company – was saying it.   One character who understands their Japanese-speaking chief perfectly, reports about a “ya-KOO-zuh” hideout:  I mention these phonetic failures because they seem to signify exactly how much regard the whole production had toward the culture of the world this film inhabits.

The excuse that Scarlett Johansson was chosen to play the character once called Motoko Kusanagi because she was the best actress for the role is pure nonsense.  Just because The Major is meant to be a synthetic being, doesn’t mean anybody wants to sit around for two hours watching that one confused/concerned expression Johansson employs throughout the entire film.  She’s also just plain bad at action.  As readers know, I was never sold on her portrayal of Black Widow in the Avengers movies, but in those films, she’s muted by the other characters and easier to ignore.  As The Major, she’s the main focus, and we can see in full view how graceless, clunky and inelegant she is in movement; which is not anyone’s vision of what a supremely expensive, state-of-the-art killing machine ought to be.  Her walk is a bustling, arm-swinging, graceless waddle, she hunches into her shoulders when standing around.  At one point, she’s in an interrogation with a suspect; stalking around him up close, invading his personal space as a form of intimidation, and all the viewer can do is laugh because she looks so awkward and unthreatening.  There is nothing of a cool, deadly assassin about her (as there isn’t as Black Widow), and dramatically, no sense of the disconnect between the deadly, cybernetic creature and its human mind and soul.

Regarding the controversy of the non-Asian actress being cast as android made in Japan, by a Japanese robotics company; uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe the feeling when watching Johansson.  Even if you let it go and say, ‘Well, androids have no race,’ the story goes along to tell us that she actually was a Japanese girl, with a Japanese family, and a Japanese name, which we see in full.  To accommodate the actress’ non-Asianness, the name of the character is changed to simply, “The Major,” and her programming recalls a life with a non-Asian family, which felt like several instances where the square peg was cut down to fit the round hole.  Another misfortune would be Michael Pitt, playing the main protagonist, Kuze.  This is the worst performance I’ve ever seen Pitt give; it’s downright laughable, as if his direction was to ‘act like a third grader playing a robot,’ including weird “roboto” voice.  The cringing and groaning was audible during my screening in the scene when the pair lie side by side and recall their original - mispronounced - Japanese names.  

Really, there was absolutely no reason why an Asian actress, perhaps a newly-discovered talent, who could’ve surprised us all and added value to this terrible film by actually portraying the character well, would not have worked for all that Johansson looks an unfunny joke here.

The story is the same hashed-over, faux-existential mumbo-jumbo about the struggle between humanity and technology.  There’s the superbeing treated as a monster/weapon/outcast, etc., and science being turned against mankind, and of course that superbeing’s struggle to find her true self: Who exactly is the “ghost” in the synthetic “shell”?  Yet, it’s all handled so inartfully, with such little inspiration, that there’s no nuance or spark to make the cliché interesting.

Ghost in the Shell is PG-13, so there are no real shocks.  That rating doesn’t make much sense because I’m guessing the built-in audience for this movie are folks who are very used to violence in their anime or manga.  There is nothing particularly interesting here for anyone under 13, whereas director Rupert Sanders might’ve been able to put something onscreen to talk about had he aimed for a hard-R.   I wonder if the idea to go for a more tepid rating was part of why the action was yawningly bad?  Outside of the signature Ghost in the Shell trademark of The Major throwing herself backwards off a building in naught but her synthetic, battle-ready (naked-looking) skin, there weren’t any real eye-popping moments that made the movie worth seeing on big screen - or anywhere else.

Ghost in the Shell is only saved from being Dragonball-level bad by the presence of veteran actors Juliette Binoche, who vainly adds grace and depth as The Major’s creator, and the legendary Takeshi “Beat” Kitano as Section 9 Chief Aramaki, who likes to fight crime the old-fashioned way.  By film’s end, I thought either one of those actors would’ve done a far better job of playing the main character than the woefully limited, ill-cast Scarlett Johansson.  Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk adds some humour and warmth as The Major’s devoted, dog-loving pal, Batou, but his performance is hobbled after the character’s eyes are replaced by a synthetic pair that comically resemble glued-on, ill-fitting buttons left over from Coraline.  However, the basset hound that plays Batou’s bff, Gabriel, is a born star.

As if the disrespect toward the Japanese culture that birthed this world and these characters wasn’t enough, Ghost in the Shell is just terrible; from its garish, eyestrain-inducing visuals, to its low-rent acting, to some of the most boring action ever framed in a Hollywood film.

It’s garbage.  Learn, Hollywood, learn.

 

~The Lady Miz Diva

March 30th, 2017

 

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of  Paramount

 

 

 

 

 

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