Live Action, Reviews

[REVIEW] ‘Ghost in the Shell’

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This March seems to be the month for remaking animated classics into live-action films. First, we had Beauty and the Beast, and now, this weekend, we are getting a live-action version of the anime classic Ghost in the Shell. Both films are decent watches but nowhere near as memorable as their original works. In the case of Ghost in the Shell, the visual spectacle is there, and it is entertaining as an action movie, but it falls short in giving the deeper messages and themes of the original anime.

The biggest positive of Ghost in the Shell is the striking visuals. Director Rupert Sanders has created a dystopian Hong Kong that reminded me a lot of Blade Runner. It is eerie, and I loved the way the skyline was both dark and brightly colored at the same time.There are also many shots from the anime which are recreated, like Major diving off of the skyscraper in the opening scene.

Also, I loved the design of the various robots. For example, we get to see a geisha robot in the trailer ,but it is even cooler when it is in the movie. All the production design, sets, props, and special effects are stunning and help you feel immersed in the story.

I also enjoyed the action, which is well staged and engaging to watch. This version of the story is basically a superhero movie. The plot is completely different than the original anime—subbing out its story of hunting down hackers for a superhero revenge plot. In this aspect, Scarlett Johansson was perfect for the role of Major with her comic book/action experience.

But that brings me to my negatives. Many are upset with Ghost in the Shell because of the whitewashing of the character of Major and others. Naturally, the anime features Japanese characters, and most of the actors in this film are Caucasian. However, in the movie’s defense, most of the characters are robots, which technically can be any race their makers want them to be.

My bigger problem with Major was the choice to turn her story into a fairly generic superhero story. The film improves after a dull first 30 minutes, but it’s all pretty standard action/superhero movie stuff. It’s entertaining on that level, but it doesn’t ask the questions about humanity and existence that the original anime does so powerfully.

I also felt the side characters were underused and bland with exception of her boss who was pretty cool. But characters like Batou, who are so great in the original, aren’t as memorable here.

I particularly missed the bittersweet ending of the original film. Movies like that leave you thinking long after you see them. They have layers with complex questions of good versus evil. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case with this version of Ghost in the Shell. It’s entertaining as a pretty action movie but really nothing more than that.

But at least it’s got that going for it. In the end, if you want to see a well-made superhero movie, then this version of Ghost in the Shell is not a bad watch. If you are hoping for something deeper, watch the original anime film.


Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel has loved animation since she was a little girl singing songs from The Little Mermaid at the top of her lungs. She currently works in social media marketing and loves to blog and vlog about Disney, Pixar and all kinds of movies in her free time. Her favorite movie is Up and she considers herself quite the Cinderella aficionado seeing every version she can get her hands on. She also loves animated TV shows like Simpsons, Gravity Falls, Star Wars Rebels and more. Follow her on twitter @smilingldsgirl
  • Jordan Briskin

    If it helps at all, I’m against whitewashing of film casts on principle, especially in live action.

    • Rachel Wagner

      I can understand that. I wish they wouldn’t do it

    • Alistair Carlyle

      What about blackwashing, that’s worse. This is a white country after all.

  • Ariel

    I’ve seen a lot of people say “well the characters are all robots so they can be any race” and that honestly doesn’t make any sense to me. If they can be any race, then why make them white in particular?

    Also, I don’t get why people try to defend the whitewashing for this movie by saying “but people in Japan are ok with it.” Like, of course they’re ok with it. Almost everyone on tv in Japan is Japanese, so they will never know what it’s like to not be represented enough. There’s a reason why Japanese Americans feel differently about this.

    No disrespect towards the writer of this review, I just hope this movie bombs because whitewashing in unacceptable no matter what.

    • Rachel Wagner

      No offense taken. Not all the robots are white but most of the leads are so I get your point. It’s just not quite as bad in my opinion to have a white robot than to have Emma Stone playing a Japanese woman in Aloha or Alfred Molina playing an Arab in WTF. But I wish they would stop with this practice.
      I can see what you are saying about the Japanese people argument also. Thanks for sharing your views. It’s not that great of a movie any way so not missing out on much.

    • DuoMatrix

      I don’t consider this whitewashing as the original creator, Masamune Shiro, and the original director, Mamoru Oshii, have both given it their blessing. Oshii himself has stated he thinks that Scarlett was a great casting choice. When the creators themselves say they have no issues with it then that is, honestly, where the argument should stop. Unfortunately it has not and is now a dead horse.

      I’ll leave here with a quote from Oshii himself,

      “What issue could there possibly be with casting her? The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply. I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie. I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing
      it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics. If
      this is to be a remake of the anime, I don’t think it’s necessary to
      remain faithful to the way things were expressed in the anime. The
      director should exercise his directorial freedom as much as possible. If
      he doesn’t do so, there would be no point in remaking it.”


      • k

        Well said Oshii san.

    • Alistair Carlyle

      This is a white country Ariel. If Japanese Americans prefer watching Japanese actors than they can watch Japanese films, nothing stopping them.

  • I’ll give this movie existing credit, makes me really want to see the original anime movie!

  • Brooks Austin

    Ghost in the Shell was one of the first non-Ghibli anime movies I watched when I first started getting into anime way back in my high school years. The franchise has always been one of my top favorite anime classics. I might still go see it but it disappoints me that this wasn’t more ambitious like the original. This makes me wonder if it would have turned out better if the Wachowksi sisters had directed it. They always cited it as a huge influence on The Matrix and they said they showed it to studios when they were shopping The Matrix around. Steven Spielberg was also at one point interested in making a live action Ghost in the Shell. I’m glad it at least doesn’t seem as bad as Dragon Ball Evolution and The Last Airbender, but anime always seems to get cursed with bad or mediocre remakes. The upcoming live action Death Note doesn’t look like it’s going to be much better.

    • Alistair Carlyle

      The original wasn’t good either.

      • k

        The TV series was much better. The anime film was basically an art film.

        • Alistair Carlyle

          Never saw SAC but yeah, apart from the few brief and well-animated action scenes, the film was soporific.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Yeah it’s definitely watchable which in a way is frustrating because it was close to being great. Just a few tweaks and it would have been.