Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

I recently went to see Ghost in the Shell (the 2017 movie). While it wasn't as bad as reviews have been making it out to be, it certainly could have been a whole lot better.
As I've said previously, I'm a big fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Which made it difficult to see this kind of movie without preconceptions - I have all sorts of assumptions about the characters and world rolling around in my head. And the movie didn't make it easy to disconnect, as it went out of the way to throw in all kinds of references to the original movie, SAC series, etc. But I did do my best.

If I think of this movie as the origin story for a human-android hybrid in a cyberpunk world (trying to ignore previous incarnations of the franchise), then it's not terrible, but not good either. The plot, revolving mostly around the Major's self-discovery, is adequate but doesn't have a lot of depth to it (to be fair, that's not uncommon in an origin-style film). The writing is just downright poor, I'm afraid. They do too much "tell, not show" - for example, the entire opening sequence showing the prosthetic body creation and then explanation by the doctor fell flat for me. Why not have that information be revealed naturally as the story goes along instead of just laid out in unimpressive dialog? The action is merely adequate as well - some of it is interesting (I enjoyed the last big fight, for example), but also there are some cringe-worthy slow-motion shots that probably spiked the CGI budget for no good reason.

Then there are all those Ghost in the Shell franchise references. They are absolutely everywhere, from the Major dropping off a building and disappearing (twice) to a chain-smoking technician to Batou's dog. It felt to me as if someone took a big handful of iconic components from all the franchise properties and said "Use as many of these as possible, whether they make sense or not." Some of it does fit in without disrupting the flow of the film, but other parts just make no sense. Even the name (or title?) "Major" is never really explained and just seems out of place.

For me, the constant references jarred me out of this new version of the franchise by reminding me of the older works (and the contrast between the two). The feeling is doubled when they made changes that seemed to have no purpose. For example: Aramaki is out in the field on his own near the end, and using a revolver. Why not have Togusa there with him and using that gun, as in pretty much all the other versions? It's not like Togusa had anything else to do at that point in the story.

The casting is worth a mention here, since it's gotten a good amount of negative attention. This is a Japanese series and there are a lot of white faces in the cast, most notably Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. That didn't bother me too much, since the whole premise of the movie is that she's not in her original body. The city that they are in is pretty clearly Asian but with a very cosmopolitan feel, so it doesn't seem out of place that there are non-Asian people roaming around without causing comment. Still, it seems like an unnecessary controversy since I'm sure there are plenty of actors of Asian descent that could have performed just as well. I wish the producers would have taken a different direction from the beginning.

This Ghost in the Shell movie had a lot of potential, but squandered it with poor writing and way too many incongruous franchise references. I'm guessing we won't see any follow-up to this particular version, which is probably just as well. A great live-action movie is possible for this franchise, but to get there someday they'll need to start over from scratch.

No comments:

Post a Comment