GHOST IN THE SHELL:
A RARE AMERICAN ADAPTATION OF A BELOVED JAPANESE ANIME…THAT’S ACTUALLY NOT THAT BAD!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
PARAMOUNT PICTURES AND DREAMWORKS PICTURES
Scarlett Johansson as Major Mia Killian in Ghost in the Shell
Unbelievable, after two infamous attempts to adapt a beloved Japanese anime into an American live-action film, Speed Racer and Dragonball: Evolution, we finally have an adaptation of an anime film that, for the most part, worked. Director, Rupert Sanders (Snow White & the Huntsman) and produced by Marvel Entertainment alumni, Avi and Ari Arad (X-Men 1-3, Spider-Man trilogy, Iron Man) bring the fascinating world of Mamoru Oshi’s Ghost in the Shell to life in (so far) the best American live-action adaptation of a Japanese anime we’ve gotten.
I was both excited and very nervous about the film when I first saw the trailer back in November. It looked stunning from a visual perspective and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Jungle Book) kicking ass is always welcome no matter what she is, despite the controversy surrounding her casting choice.
But, I can’t erase the sins of Speed Racer or Dragonball: Evolution, two notorious American adaptations of popular anime that were pretty much a complete insult to its source material. However, I recall talking about the production of the live-action film in my review of Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie from 2015, so it makes sense for me to watch it and see how it holds up compared to the 1995 classic or any of its sequels.
And, the film is solid, not nearly as amazing as the original movie but it’s so refreshing to see a live-action adaptation that understood exactly what the world of Ghost in the Shell had to look like, keep the fans satisfied, and remain a standalone movie. It lacks the complex storytelling of the original film and kind of reverts to the typical good vs evil formula, but it’s done fine and the action is thrilling enough to keep audiences entertained, even if you haven’t seen the anime films before.
Set in the near future where the majority of humans are augmented with cybernetics that enhance various traits like vision, strength, and intelligence, Major (Johansson) is the first of her kind, a woman who was saved from a terrorist attack, and was transformed into a cyber-enhanced soldier with a human brain devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals, courtesy of Hanka Robotics, the world’s leading developer of augmentative technology. But when terrorism reaches new heights including the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop them.
Unfortunately, she soon discovers she’s been lied to and maybe the people who saved her, didn’t really save her, but stole her real life. Major is determined to find out who she was and find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others.
The film also stars Takeshi Kitano (Yes, the man behind Takeshi’s Challenge) as Chief Daisuke Aramaki, Michael Pitt (Funny Games, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal) as Hadley Cruz, Pilou Asbaek (R, A Hijacking, Game of Thrones) as Batou, Chin Han (The Dark Knight, 2012, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as Togusa, Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Chocolat, Godzilla (2014)) as Dr. Ouélet, Lasarus Ratuere (Terra Nova, The Mule, Ready for This) as Ishikawa, and Peter Ferdinando (Snow White & the Huntsman, 300: Rise of an Empire, High-Rise) as Cutter.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is one of those rare American adaptations of a popular anime that actually understood the source material and delivered a faithful re-telling of the first film. A minor issue I had with the film though, was the screenplay by Ehren Kruger, it’s not Transformers sequel bad but it can get really corny at times, thankfully it doesn’t ruin the movie.
Most of the performances are solid, Scarlett Johansson as Major, the badass heroine, that’s pretty much been working for her since Iron Man 2, Peter Ferdinando is a great over-the-top villain as Cutter, Pilou Asbaek nailed Batou’s character, which shocked me because I thought his portrayal looked kind of silly in the trailer, and every time Takeshi Kitano was on-screen I couldn’t stop making jokes about Takeshi’s Challenge and perhaps you can call that game a prequel to this movie…just saying.
Visually, it looks like the Ghost in the Shell world brought to life, really, the only way I can describe how it looks on-screen is like a hybrid of Blade Runner, A.I., and Back to the Future. Every shot of the city in this movie is absolute eye-candy, especially if you watch it on IMAX.
It’s not a perfect adaptation of the anime, but just saying Ghost in the Shell is a solid movie at all and it understood the source material was so relieving. Die-hard fans, no need to worry, this is no Speed Racer or Dragonball: Evolution, it’s an American adaptation of a popular Japanese anime with EFFORT! And I’m so glad to say that, and on a side-note the film must be viewed on IMAX 3D, you won’t regret it.