We all went into the Ghost in the Shell screening with a fair amount of trepidation. After all, this beloved anime turned live-action remake was not without its controversies, the white-washing of the lead character being the most prominent. But how did it hold up to the original? We had the full gamut of reviewers watch Ghost in the Shell, from “I’ve never seen it” to “this is the anime that got me into watching anime” level of fans, so we could get a decent range of opinions. Here they are:
Ghost in the Shell took me completely by surprise. I was expecting a dog show, but Rupert Sanders delivered a fantastic film instead. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen, and there are a lot of moments from the original anime that made it shot-for-shot into this version, which makes me giddy with happiness. From the moment the opening credits began, emulating the original opening credits, I knew I was hooked.
The visual mastery continues throughout the film, where every frame could be a work of art. They’ve crafted a breathtaking world, filled with hyperactive cyber-punk lights and sounds. It’s exactly how I pictured it would be, and it feels like an anime come to life, just dialled up to eleven.
Casting issues aside, Scarlett Johannson was great as Major Kusanagi, she suited the character and she sold her “I’m a human brain/robot body hybrid” act. The little things, like the way she moved, the way she reacted to her environment, you could tell she couldn’t feel anything, like she wasn’t comfortable in her skin. The rest of the cast was a bit on the bland side, they didn’t have overly much to do, but each had some pretty good moments. Special shout out to Takeshi Kitano as the stoic, solely Japanese-speaking as Chief Daisuke Aramaki, and to Pilou Asbæk as Batou, Major’s partner, confidant, and human conscience.
When it comes to the story, it wasn’t too deep and meaningful. However, when you’re cutting a lengthy series of anime mangas, movies and shows down to one film, I get that you can’t include all the nuance. The gist of it was there though, and faithful to the original. Fans of the original anime will be very pleased with this adaptation, and for the first time, maybe more so than those new to the material.
- Score: 8/10
I went into Ghost in the Shell a little blind. While I’ve always been aware of the basic concepts of the original anime and watched some scenes from the original film, I’ve never actually ever watched it in its entirety (don’t hate me, okay). This movie certainly makes me want to dig more into the underlying themes and lore as I thoroughly enjoyed it and want more of it.
The stunning visuals and well-choreographed action scenes are the obvious drawing point to this thrilling film. The visual effects are stunning, the cinematography and atmosphere all collide to bring the futuristic city of Tokyo alive and draw you into the world that has been faithfully recreated for this movie. It’s all layered together by some superbly directed scenes from Rupert Sanders that definitely brought me back to The Matrix, which took inspiration from the source material.
What impressed me most though was the simplicity in which it told a rather complex story. The film was able to get through a lot of the foundational story-telling and explain its complexities in a way that never stopped the movie from moving forward which is a definite credit to its script-writers Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger. They make have removed some depth from the story to make this happen, but I felt it didn’t rob the film of its power.
While I could not connect with every character, Scarlett Johanssen as Major definitely resonated with me. She seemed suitably robotic, while also conflicted and intrigued at her predicament. It was Michael Pitt’s portrayal of Kuze that I felt was perhaps the highlight of the cast.
I wouldn’t call Ghost in the Shell a perfect movie, I was left underwhelmed by a few moments and especially its closing. I still thoroughly enjoyed it though and will definitely be watching this a few times over to ensure I get to take in everything that I likely missed and watch some of those incredible scenes over again.
- Score: 8/10
As someone familiar with Ghost in the Shell, but who has never seen any of the anime, I found the live-action movie to be… alright. My lingering impression of the adaptation is Minority Report put through a Blade Runner filter. Ghost in the Shell is far from smart science fiction – the mystery is weak, and every 15 minutes a character has to make reference to the title just in case we don’t get it. This said, it’s certainly visually striking. It’s definitely a movie to catch on as large a screen as possible.
In terms of performances, although I can understand Scarlett Johansson’s work in the film, I don’t particularly like that kind of character. Thank goodness then, for Pilou Asbæk’s Batou, and Juliette Binoche’s Doctor Ouélet, who bring some much-needed emotional warmth and expressiveness to the movie. A shout-out too to Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki, for elevating the film’s badass factor.
Ghost in the Shell is clearly not that kind of movie, but I would have loved to spend more time exploring the nuances of its world: Do cybernetic enhancements carry prestige and class associations? Do people “jailbreak” the improvements? As it stands, Ghost in the Shell skips those sociological questions, and is extremely heavy-handed in regards to exploring identity issues, and more specifically what it is to be human.
One final note is that the “whitewashing” accusations leveled against the live-action film are actually quite cleverly handled on-screen. In fact, you could even say Ghost in the Shell, whether intentionally or not, makes a sly comment about Asian appropriation. How exactly this is the case, you’ll have to watch the movie to see for yourself.
- Score: 6.5/10
While I’ve never really deep-dived into the manga, saying I’m just a fan of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell animated movie is putting it lightly. Just one chord from Kenji Kawaii’s iconic theme song and I can practically watch the entire film from memory – something I’ve done many times as I unpacked all the philosophical musings it had around self-identity and humanity. And even with that feeling of sanctity around that classic film, I have to say that I actually enjoyed this new live-action take from star Scarlett Johannson and director Rupert Sanders enough to recommend it.
Creator Masamune Shirow’s massively influential world (it was the inspiration for so many iconic sci-fi films) is brought to screen with a fidelity that simply would not have possible before now, as Sanders uses cutting edge visuals to translate the technologically over-saturated future Tokyo to screen. Simply put: This is a gorgeous film, with every frame packed with jaw dropping details. Some of these details are incredible little touches for the fans, like keeping the retro-future look of all the vehicles.
After spending so many years as an Avenger, Johannson easily handles her action duties, of which she has plenty. She also does a solid job though of bringing the mostly robotic shell of the Major to un-life, with her awkwardly stiff gait and deadpan expression. This does rob her of some warmth and personality which newcomers might find off-putting, but its definitely sticking with the source. And that’s something that this film definitely does, as it painstakingly recreates several plot points and even frame-for-frame scene reproductions from the manga, animated movie and various anime series (the biggest addition is to get around the casting of the white Johannson in the traditionally Asian role of the Major, and they actually do a fairly good job of making it feel organic to the narrative).
The most prominent plus point for me though, is probably also the aspect that may turn off newcomers the most: While the film boasts some visually superb action beats, Sanders has definitely not bowed to Hollywood blockbuster norms and instead kept the pacing just as meditative as the original. The problem is that the original had a lot more to actually meditate on, as the script here just doesn’t have the philosophical and metaphysical depth of its progenitor. The result is a stunning, occasionally thrilling movie with a badass protagonist that should please both hardcore fans and newcomers, but also still slightly irk both hardcore fans and newcomers in different ways. Definitely still worth a watch though.
- Score: 7/10
For the record, I knew less than nothing about Ghost in the Shell and I used to be into anime. It is a shame I carry and must live with. I was still rather excited to watch a movie that had elements of cyberpunk, noir, and looked a lot like Blade Runner, so not a problem! I was also looking forward to the investigation on consciousness and humanity that Blade Runner and even AI managed to do rather well. Sadly I walked out confused at what all the fuss was about and can only remember the movie for some rather silly narrative errors and some amazing special effects, which are shoved so hard down your throat you need to spend a few hours staring at a blank wall to recover.
There are some good things, Johannson being one of them. She certainly manages to pull off the whole ‘I’m a brain in a bot-body’ extremely well. She never looks completely at home with herself and even her walking is slightly off in a way that only touches your consciousness. Johannson also puts to good use the martial arts skills she learned during her time as Marvel’s Black Widow in some great action beats. However the pacing around these action beats felt off to me. It felt like, “speak a bit about stuff, okay people are getting bored, add an action scene. Right, talk again, wait the audience is nodding off again, more action!”. This forced, uneven pacing overtook any character depth that could have been the main focus. I honestly didn’t care about any of them.
One of the elements I enjoyed the most was the visuals, they are stunning. Though, again, there was an overwhelming impression of “this was forced”. My issue is that there is so much jammed into each scene that you probably need to watch the movie, on mute, 30 times in order to catch all the weird and wonderful things on display. I also found some of the effects to also be rather irritating, like when people walk through light/lasers buzzing, bleeping and all manner of sounds ensue. If my TV remote control made sounds like that when my cat walked past I’d throw the thing away and use my hand.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t ‘get’ the movie. I have no background with the material and the obvious focus here by director Rupert Saunders was for fans, at the expense of people like me. I think many will enjoy the effects and the stunning world that is created, but that creation came at a cost. I felt the first half of the movie was actually rather boring, with the exception of some Matrix-level effects (the first scene is very similar to the Neo saving Morpheus scene). If a bit more time had been spent focusing on the introspection of the Major and less on creating a world to set the weak narrative I would have been much happier.
- Score: 6/10
Although I’ve still yet to watch the original anime film, Ghost in the Shell made its intentions clear to me after blazing through the anime series in anticipation for this live-action adaptation. Questions of humanity, the moral divide that augmentations and cybernetics inflict on society, and ideals around access to information made it a compelling watch, if only for its relevancy to struggles that we should soon start facing. The live-action Ghost in the Shell then attempts to ask some of the same questions, but doesn’t quite manage to follow through with them in a compelling fashion.
Scarlett Johansson puts in an admirable performance as Major, wrestling with ideals surrounding consent, a sense of belonging and the truth behind her creation. Although she may come off as stoic at times, the Major was never the encompassing suite of emotions in the first place, which helps ground Scarlett and her take on the character. Pilou Asbæk’s Batou is the real standout though, bringing warmth and a lot of heart to every scene he shares with Johansson. He’s also the proponent for some of the film’s more heartfelt moments, whether it be feeding stray dogs on the dirty street of Tokyo, or cracking jokes at the expense of Major and the rest of Section 9.
Section 9 themselves aren’t given much to do, which is disappointing given the number of strong characters that the team encompasses. There are some neat “hey, I know him” moments for fans, but nothing else beyond that. Without a connection to them already, they’re just fodder in the background, which doubles over for the films antagonists. Aside from the narrative work done on Kuze and his game with Major, Ghost in the Shell struggles to cement a compelling narrative around the entire conflict. Which then doesn’t help the film’s questions to the audience by the end.
One aspect that doesn’t disappoint in the slightest is the film’s presentation. Ghost in the Shell is beautifully shot, with a distinct style and sheen that’s unmistakable. The Neo-Tokyo has a grimy feel to complement its bright shades of neon, which are strewn across the horizon in the forms of glow advertisements across the city’s skyscrapers. Every action scene is punchy and exciting to watch thanks to some expert effects, and not a single backdrop to these encounters is wasted. There’s a lot of visual storytelling on show here, and it nails the feel of the film its adapting perfectly.
Ghost in the Shell certainly doesn’t manage to hold its narrative together long enough to make it truly thought provoking (and the less said about the big reveal, the better). Despite that, it’s still thoroughly entertaining, and a visual spectacle you’re likely not soon to forget. Fans of the source material are sure to appreciate more of its nuanced details a little more, but even newcomers should find something to enjoy in this surprisingly faithful adaptation.
- Score: 7/10