Ghost In The Shell (2017) Movie Review

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 12.07.06

Dear goodness…the amount of crap this film got while it was in production was staggering, and the amount of crap it’s getting now that its been released to the public hasn’t actually subsided.  “They’re whitewashing a Japanese story by casting an American in a Japanese role”  “It’s a hollywood movie – so of course they’re going to mess it up, since it’s something we love and they want to destroy it for profit!”  “How dare you… in general!”  But is it really as bad as they say? – lets find out.  Keeping in mind, I’m a Ghost In The Shell fan who enjoys the movies, TV show and Manga.  So here goes:

Set in the near future (around 2029, since the manga is a product of the late 1980s), our story revolves around Major Mira Killian (Major Motoko Kusanagi in the other stories and played by Scarlett Johansson), who awakens after what seems like the aftermath of a horrible accident involving a refugee boat.  She finds herself lying on a table.  Her body is that of completely augmented cybernetics – a robot body that resembles a human being is nearly every way.  The only ‘old’ thing about her, is her brain, hence her ghost.  Shortly after this, she is flung into working for the anti-terrorist organisation known as Section 9, which includes Chief Daisuke Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano from that kooky Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle), ex-ranger Batou (played by Pilou Asbæk, aka Euron Greyloy in Game Of Thrones), full-human detective Togusa (Chin Han), behind-the-scenes guy and tech specialist Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere) and the sniper Saito (Yutaka Izumihara).  When a hacker is using other augmented cybernetic beings to kill off key figures at a Hanka Business Conference, it’s up to Section 9 to find out who this hacker is, and to stop him.

Now to talk about various factors:

First of all, the main 1s that people complained about – the casting, acting and characters.  They complained about whitewashing the film…even though it’s a multinational cast.  You have a Jewish American, American, Japanese, Danish, French, Chinese-Singaporean, British varieties, Fiji-Australian, Romanian and Canadian, among others.  To suggest any racism involved is complete madness!  Consider the possibility of them trying to please the culturally sensitive…and Ladriya?  Ladriya is new!  She’s played by a Kurdish-Pole from London named Danusia Samal, and why is she there?  Because in the source material the Major stands out by being the only female in Section 9.  You want a strong independent woman?  The Major in the anime and manga could beat up the rest of Section 9 with the possible exception of Batou.  They added a 2nd female to the team to avoid accusations of male-dominated workplaces in movies.  It also needs to be considered that there are justifications to such choices throughout the flick.  One of which would be a spoiler.  Another is to recognise a very subtle possibility, which is immigration.  The prospect of Non-Japanese people living and working in Japan.  It’s already happening.  What if some politician decides to open the borders, UK and US style, in Japan in the future?  It’s unlikely.  But consider everything.  It is a seemingly unwritten future doomed to repeat itself after all…then you take the narrative of Ghost In The Shell to thought – The Ghost In The Shell universe saw World War 3 from 2000 to 2015, the second Vietnam war from 2015 to 2024 and the second Korean war which takes place in 2024…That can merit immigration to some.  Was the acting world-class?  No.  But it worked fine and nobody was bad, even though Kaori Momoi would probably have been more comfortable speaking Japanese rather than english…but then again she isn’t speaking to a Japanese character.  They did their jobs pretty well.  Nothing stood out as amazing acting, but nothing fell into Tommy Wiseau territory either.  The characters, when compared to their anime and manga roles, were mostly moved a bit out of the way to focus on the Major and occasionally Batou.  We forget that this mostly happened in the 1995 anime movie as well, but we love that movie and don’t question it, so we continue poking at the flaws of this 1.  Did they tell a different story that isn’t in the source and is different to the 1995 version?  Yes!  How Batou got his eyes is different (in fact, it’s given an origins to those who haven’t seen any other material) and how the Major came to being is different…It is its own film borrowing from excellent sources, like samples for every rap song you ever loved.

The CGI and graphics can be a little hit and miss.  Where it works well, it’s fantastic, and where it doesn’t work as well, it’s pretty obvious…believe it or not, the presentation of traffic is pretty bad.  But the presentation of the Major’s building blocks and action scenes were really good.

The art style and decisions borrow a great deal from Cyberpunk and particularly from the legendary film Bladerunner.  People can argue that it “doesn’t cover much new ground”, but I say it’s a welcome return to some charismatic and likeable settings.  I miss good looking cyberpunk, and I’m happy to see it return in some way.  You’ll notice a lot of interesting choices, from ’90s haircuts to smoking to heroin chics to Hologram advertising to dark passages and night clubs…it has character.

The music is done by Clint Mansell, the english composer who has done every Darren Aronofsky film (and is famous for his composition Lux Aeterna) – he provides an excellent soundtrack that is pure cyberpunk and very 80s (in a good way).  At the same time, he manages to take Kenji Kawai’s score from the 1995 Ghost In The Shell and both faithfully and respectfully reintroduce it to the public with remixed elements.  The music helped make this film feel like a classic cyberpunk film…something I’ve hoped to see in a while.

The Story is easier to digest than its anime original and the manga, and for good reason, 1. It’s Hollywood, and 2. The Manga is chaotic with a lot of fine print about technology and engineering.  You’ll find the movie scattered here and there throughout the pages of what is a very episodic read.  Is it bad?  No, in fact it’s quite a tight film in its own right if you treat it as an interpretation of the series rather than a piece of the puzzle.  “The film was humourless” some people have said – well, the 1995 film was mostly humourless as well.  The manga and the Stand Alone Complex TV series are where you’ll find most of the humour injected into the characters.  Then there are the other films – 1 thing that wasn’t covered in this film that was in the 1995 version was sexuality and gender identity, as the Major’s body is designed as a mechanical replication of a woman, rather than 1 that has everything from before, including being capable of reproduction (If this is the future of the human race or man’s forced attempt at evolution, this factor is to be considered).  Here it was all about Major’s identity and questioning her own humanity, and sometimes that’s fine.

The Cinematography was done by Jess Hall, whose work includes Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz…And he did phenomenal work!  He stated that he wanted to pay homage to the anime through both his choice of camera (wide-angle with no lens distortion) and his choice of perspective.  While it’s a loose interpretation of the 1995 film with many differences, he managed to faithfully remake in live action some of the ’95 film’s most famous scenes, including the Major’s development, the shallow water fight scene, the rooftop scene and the boat scene, to name a few.  The lighting was well chosen, as was the colour grading.

Would I recommend Ghost In The Shell, the 2017 whitewashed hollywood-bastardised monstrosity that deserves to die 1000 deaths film?  Yes.  Yes because I know you’re a much more intelligent person than you’re letting on.  Yes because the madness of crowds is exactly what it is – a big pile of temporary fluff that comes and goes like fog.  Useless.  Boring.  Dying.  It is up to us to decide if we like this or not by seeing it.  While it’s not as good as the Anime film, or even other Ghost In The Shell related outlets…I see it to be a good starting point into the series (some even consider this an old persons series now…like Power Rangers, Transformers and Chips), and after that starting point you’re free to call it the worst of the bunch.  But in my opinion, it didn’t deserve all of the crap it got or the low ratings.  It is what it is, an easy-to-digest sci-fi movie that chose not to be overly complicated.  It’s also porn for a visual artist, especially in its photography, music and design.  I loved looking at it, so even during some of the different story elements, my eyes got a feast.

Graphics: ***3/4 (***** in places and **1/2 in others)

Art: *****

Acting: ***

Characters: *** (**** in ’95 and ***** in Stand Alone Complex and other movies)

Music: ****1/2

Story: ***1/4

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****


Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015) Movie Review

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 16.16.38

Well here it is, the sequel with an anticipation of legendary proportions to the Superhero movie masterpiece known as The Avengers, and if you’re British, (sort of known) as Avengers Assemble (The Avengers, commercially, was already taken here, but nobody really calls this Avengers Assemble).  How long was the wait?  Roughly 1093 days (*creates another tally mark on the wall*).  Did we have patience for it during that time?  No, but the likes of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians Of The Galaxy and 1 and a half seasons of Agents of SHIELD certainly helped pass the time.  So…Avengers 2…Age Of Ultron…how was it?

Age Of Ultron isn’t better or worse than The Avengers, but it is most certainly different.  It’s clear that Joss Whedon decided that it would be better if he tried to create a different sort of Superhero film, rather than try to top the 1 that he already made.  He drew inspiration from The Godfather Part 2 by trying to be different to Part 1, and it shows.  Some time has past between stories, and this team has grown to know each other for quite a while now, to the point of performing some innovative and fun double team manoeuvres in their action scenes.  Also if you’re familiar with Joss’ other work, you’ll know that along with his quirky sense of humour comes a very strong humanity aspect, with lots of drama and sometimes death (Even within the context of superheroes, he manages to present the challenges and hardships of real life both clearly and metaphorically).  The Avengers was 2 parts Whedon humour and 1 part Whedon Drama, while Age Of Ultron chose to be half and half, and it was darker.  It’s rare for Joss to have 1 without the other, and he does both equally well.

Because this film came out in the UK about a week before it came out in the USA, I’ve decided to have a bit of fun here by rewording some of the truth slightly when discussing the story and character elements of the movie…and maybe even the music.  But my discussion on acting, production and overall rating are all genuine.

What’s the story?  It begins with The Avengers going to Slovakia with a bang, to raid a Hydra outpost led by Baron Strucker, who has been using Loki’s staff to experiment on humans. Among his experiments are orphaned twins named Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, who are also known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.  After seeing the deaths of the Avengers, Tony Stark decides that the world needed something much more and bigger than The Avengers itself.  To do this he creates a program or digital Superhero that can travel through the internet, and not only know a ton of stuff, but also possess multiple machines at will.  This new hero would become known as Ultron, and was intended to be the ultimate peacekeeper.  But first impressions proved to sour Ultron as he decides that his mission is to save the earth, but not humanity, which he sees as possibly being the cause of every problem.

When it comes to the characters and how they’re presented, Age Of Ultron does something that hasn’t been looked into that much – which is backstories and extra character development for the lesser known Avengers (aka, the 1s who may have been supporting characters, but not receive their own film).  Black Widow has obviously appeared in other Marvel films, but this is the 1st time her backstory has been given some exploration. The same goes for Hawkeye, only instead of a backstory, it’s a development of the man himself.  I consider this to be good, because they’re among the more mysterious members of the team. Also, anybody who remembers Loki’s role in the prequel, might be slightly shocked to find that while Ultron is potentially more dangerous, he’s surprisingly as funny (not cheeky funny like Loki, but still really funny.  It’s rare to make a robot this funny, unless their name is Bender, TARS or GLaDOS).

What themes are covered in Avengers 2?  Quite a number!  And not only quite a number, but with a different twist to themes that are literally overturned atoms, let alone rocks.  Man vs Machine or co-existence of Man and Machine is a rather obvious 1.  Creator vs Creation is another (think Frankenstein and Pinocchio…Ultron even sings the Pinocchio song a little bit).  Family is another (and yes, Black Widow and the Hulk have a bit of a thing going on).  Secrets is another (Ultron was 1 of Tony’s secrets from the team).

So, the acting.  I had no problem with the acting, and even Elisabeth Olsen does a pretty good job as Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch), which surprised me, considering my thought of ever mixing the words Olsen, Marvel and good…especially in this universe.  It also places Aaron Taylor-Johnson on the list of actors who have played multiple superheroes, and thankfully we can say that he’s 1 of few who had 2 good roles rather than 1 good and 1 bad (Halle Berry may have been Storm in X-Men, but she was also Catwoman.  She’ll never escape that!).  Did anybody steal the show?  To be honest, I don’t know, as that would suggest someone being superior to everybody else within the film.  But that doesn’t mean that some acting performances didn’t stand out in this film.  James Spader was absolutely fantastic as the voice of Ultron, which happens to be soothing, and yet really cold at the same time.  Great choice.

The music is more or less as good as other Marvel films, and Brian Tyler’s John Williams inspired scores really are great…did I mention Simpsons composer and Tim Burton’s go-to musician Danny Elfman has worked on it too?  Yeah, when Ultron’s physical body starts to build up, the opening theme to Beetlejuice starts playing.  And when Vision appears (played by Paul Bettany), the Edward Scissorhands theme starts playing when he looks out the window.  It was pretty mesmerising *wink*.

Production-wise and action-scene-wise, The Avengers 2…at this moment anyway…might genuinely be untouchable.  If you thought the fight scenes in Man Of Steel were good, and are wondering what the fight between Batman and Superman in 2016 will be like…1 thing you need to know is that it will take a lot of effort and imagination to top the fight between Iron Man and The Hulk in South Africa (as seen in the trailer, were Iron Man puts on the Hulkbuster).  It was 1 of the greatest and most destructive fight scenes you’ll ever see outside of a giant monster movie!  The CGI and special effects that went into it were insane!  It was the closest you’ll come to seeing a Dragonball Z movie done right! (James Wong could be crying from the missed opportunity by now).  Also, what they do to that city in Slovakia was pure awesomeness, and I would laugh if they pulled a Thor 2 with it on Agents Of SHIELD (SHIELD cleaned up Thor’s mess in Season 1, imagine trying to clean this 1 up!).

Would I recommend The Avengers: Age Of Ultron?  Yes!  It’s a great standalone movie, but like most other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you need the others to really enjoy it, as they allow you to get to know the characters.  Some might say that Captain America and Thor didn’t have a lot to do in this film.  Well, they each have 2 films about themselves so far and they have a 3rd film each coming within the next few years, I’d say they should give more spotlight to the 1s who aren’t starring in their own flicks.  The humour is still there and done brilliantly, the drama is well done, and the ending just gets you excited for more.

Overall Rating: *****