Combustible Celluloid
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With: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Peter Ferdinando, Kaori Momoi, Anamaria Marinca, Daniel Henshall, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara
Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, based on a comic by Masamune Shirow
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images
Running Time: 106
Date: 03/30/2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Robot and Sold

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Originally created as a manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell has always been about the battle between technology and humanity, and the new Hollywood version is definitely more technology and less humanity. It's unquestionably a product and a marketing decision, an export meant to generate profits overseas, especially in Asia. It has an international cast, designed to draw in viewers in various industrial countries, and it has a minimum of intelligent dialogue, to cut down on translating problems.

To make matters worse, it's also a representation of white-washing, and dumbing-down. The original Ghost in the Shell (1995) is an R-rated Japanese story, and the new version is a PG-13 rated white people story. Whatever concern was ever given to preserving the original Japanese elements gave way to the marketing department, who demanded a wider, western appeal, and a bigger return on profits.

Yet I'm glad I saw this new movie. Apparently, no one told director Rupert Sanders — whose only previous feature was Snow White and the Huntsman, which I have not seen — that he was supposed to phone this one in. Instead, he has created a visual world that took me to deep, dream-and-nightmare places that I don't often see. Many movies these days generate the same kind of reviews, the "it looks great, but it lacks humanity" review, and that holds true here, but the "looks great" part cannot be underestimated.

Sanders's world consists of skyscrapers decorated with three-dimensional holograms that are presumably advertisements, but they are haunting in a very primal way. Buildings are ominous, yet high places are wonderfully freeing. The movie's use of lines, shapes, arcs, angles, and textures, is never less than striking; not a single shot goes by that doesn't make you gape in astonishment. While I was watching, I was recalling some of the greatest of all science fiction/fantasy cityscape visual feasts: Metropolis, Blade Runner, Tron, Brazil, The City of Lost Children, Gattaca, Dark City, Minority Report, etc.

Then there's the movie's ace-in-the-hole. I've always said that one of the best visual effects a movie can have is a beautiful woman, and Scarlett Johansson is one of the most beautiful women anyone could ever ask for. Playing the main character "Major," she spends the movie stalking around in a series of tight, body-sculpting outfits, and she alone provides quite a strong argument on the "human" side of the debate.

She, of course, is a veteran of many action and sci-fi movies, not least of which her five turns (to date) as Black Widow in the Avengers series, and films ranging from smart and still (Under the Skin) to loud and fun (Lucy). Yet she's also a fine actress, a terribly underrated one, and she reaches down deep to try to come up with what it might be like to be a human brain in an artificial body; in battle, she's flawless, but in dealing with more everyday endeavors, she's a little stiff, a little hesitant. She's magnificent.

As for the other actors, I was happy to see the great "Beat" Takeshi Kitano again, and he gets one super-cool shootout sequence. Denmark's Pilou Asbæk effectively takes on the role of Batou, the heroine's sidekick, and France's Juliette Binoche is a beautiful, compromised scientist. Pouty, good-looking, but somewhat creepy Michael Pitt has finally been put to good use as a pouty, creepy cyborg. He even provides Major with a few precious moments of onscreen connection.

I was trying to decide if this new Ghost in the Shell has a rewatchability factor. So many spectacles fade away so quickly. I was all for Kong: Skull Island a few weeks back, but now I can barely remember it, and I doubt I'll want to see it again. But this one... perhaps. I think back to the way it affected me on a deep-rooted level, the way it managed to feel detached and unreal and to draw me in, and I think that's something that I cannot discount or dismiss too easily. I may want to go back there again someday.

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