A Shell of Its Source
April 12, 2017
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Before I review the move, I’d like to address the “whitewashing” of the film. Scarlett Johansson plays the role of Major Mira Killian, instead of an Asian actress for an American adaptation of a Japanese comic/anime.
Don’t get me wrong, whitewashing can and is a thing that Hollywood does from time to time and needs to be called out for but only when it applies to the story. In this case, race is not the main theme of the plot.
The Major is one of the few specifically non-Asian anime icons. Her design depicts she could be of any race. Hell, even calling Major “she” may be a problem, as the character does not have a gender or a race. She is for all intents and purposes a robot.
The main theme of cyberpunk, or more specifically transhumanism, is defining what is truly human. After you strip away more and more of the flesh, is there anything left after the body is nothing but screws and bolts, oil and hydraulic fluids are running through your veins and your own mind is nothing but ones and zeroes what is you at the end? What is your humanity by that point? What is your ghost?
There can be stories about race in cyberpunk; It’s a major theme of Shadowrun. But pure cyberpunk is more or less along the lines of: your race, your sex or sexual preference or creed if that even survive into the near future doesn’t matter, only what use you have to what government or corporation you work for and what capitol you have in the end decides your place in society.
The creator of the franchise, Masamune Shirow, noted that not every Ghost of the Shell adaption has to follow canon and with the number of anime and manga out there with their own lines of canon, so I can believe he’s ok with this film.
So what do I think of the movie? It’s well executed for a retelling of the 1st film.
Ghost in the Shell is about Major Mira Killian, a war refugee surviving a terrorist attack on her boat to Japan that killed both of her parents. She was the 1st person to under go full cyberization: a brain in a robot body or shell.
She joins section 9, an anti-cyber terrorism tasked with taking down cyber hackers in an age where you can reprogram people to commit acts of terrorism or steal company and state secrets straight out of other’s head.
Her task is finding and stopping a cyber terrorist trying to take down the corporation that made her. He murders a number a people linked to a secret project.
Surprise, surprise! The bad guy is not the bad guy but it’s the people she’s working for, and she has to stop them.
The movie for the most part is very predictable and if you have any clue of the source material or tropes of the genre, you’ll spot the real bad guy in less than 4 minutes run time.
The special effects are a good mix of high quality CGI and practical; from the robots geisha that spider walks backwards, to the cloaking device the Major uses to get the jump on the terrorist. Everything feels like its real; even the spider tank that you would think to be a bit too goofy for a setting like this. The skyline full of ads and skyscrapers to the darker and collapsing buildings of the outlaw zone sets the mood for the dystopian feel of the world.
Johansson does a great job portraying the awkwardness of being in a robot body. Even from blinking at the wrong time to the way she stands feels like someone trying to get used to her body. She also must keep her cold logical attitude publicly but in private, she is bothered by her lack of touch as she hires prostitutes just so she can feel them and have them describe what and how it feels to her.
Her co-actors don’t get too much screen time other than exposition and a sequence of each of the members fighting off squids and beat cop the two less augmented fully armored goons with 6 chambered revolvers, to the sniper Ishikawa (lasarus Ratueres) snips a hover plane out of the sky.
Overall this is a fine retelling of the original movie, well done effects with a lot of tributes for the original manga, just don’t go in expecting to be surprised by the plot.