The studio executives these days are becoming progressively dumber. I think we can all agree that the lead role in this movie went to Scarlett Johansson because the studio thought it needed star power to make the movie successful. Unless international box office saves it, Ghost in the Shell is a bomb. Scarlett, who is largely the most profitable actress on the planet due to her involvement in Marvel cinematic universe (where she really doesn't do much) is not the person who people go to see in the movies. I really, really love it that's it's Melissa McCarthy who is probably the biggest draw out of female actresses right now.
So the one reason they got Scarlett to do the movie backfired on them. This whole whitewashing controversy I was not behind at all, I understand how studios work and they made a reasonable assumption that they needed the star to make a successful movie. The film has actually a very diverse cast so other than the casting of Scarlett you cannot accuse the rest of the casting choices of whitewashing. However there is something so spectacularly dumb in the movie I cannot move past it.
When the Major's origin story is revealed we find out she actually used to be a Japanese woman. The company killed her and put her mind in a robotic body. There are so many things wrong with this. Was studio execs too ignorant or just didn't care that this is just handling the SJWs screaming 'whitewashing' the ammo?! There was absolutely no reason that the human form of the Major had to be Asian. By doing this, they literally put the whole whitewashing scandal in front of a viewer forcing the audience to watch the scene where the Japanese mother of a girl is talking to Caucasian chick who has her Japanese daughter's brain. It's just...unbelievably awkward.
Other than this the film is in a tricky place from the start. It's hard to make the audience care for AI. You have a child robot in AI and you have hosts in Westworld where you see them being abused, you care immediately about them and want them to have their revenge or at least happiness. But here Major is almost without emotion, she is a killing machine. The script awkwardly tries to add depth to her but it's too little and it's very clumsily done, such as a scene where major hires a prostitute and touches her face. We find out her human self was a rebel but it's never properly explored, we never get to know this character and it's very difficult to care about what she does and what happens to her.
Johansson is not a very strong actress. She is talented and she occasionally does very well, like in Match Point, but she doesn't have charisma and intensity of someone like Charlize Theron who can sell any role. Johansson attempts to do something here even if that something is awkward looking military walk, but her efforts aren't enough to make this a compelling watch.
The rest of the cast varies from forgettable to good. Michael Pitt shows up as the main villain and he doesn't really do much and is handed a completely incomprehensible plot of 'human network' that would allow him to 'live on'. Juliette Binoche makes the most out of the part of a doctor who is taking care of Major. But it's Pilou Asbaek who really steals the show as Major's colleague and ally Batou. He is so much fun to watch and actually manages to give his scenes some energy. There is also a subplot where Batou is feeding stray dogs which was a good idea - it immediately makes you care for the character. I actually did care about Batou and the dogs so much more than all the others in the movie combined.
Where the film really manages to score some points it's the terrific look and ambiance of it. The multicultural, digitally enhanced setting really brings Blade Runner to mind while the terrific score by Clint Mansell (which doesn't even have a release date set!) - easily the best thing about the movie - creates dense, fascinating atmosphere. The action scenes are cool and the robotic geisha is such a cool and creepy design but the director Rupert Sanders yet again proves how inept he is at his job - the jarring mixture of slow motion and fast cuts rarely works and the action sequences could have been so much better if they were handled by someone more capable.
Overall the film is far from being a disaster and with a run time under 2 hours it's worth seeing for the music and visuals alone. I haven't seen the original anime so I cannot speak just how superior it is to 2017 movie but the script could have been much better here and the ideas and characters definitely deserved far more exploration than they received here.
Ghost in the Shell (2017, USA, 107 min)
Plot: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals.
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Masamune Shirow (based on the comic 'The Ghost in the Shell'), Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and
Ehren Kruger (screenplay)
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano