18 April 2017

V reviews: Ghost in the Shell, the Live-Action movie

So after lots of doubting, This evening I finally went to see the ScarJo movie of Ghost in the Shell. This mostly because I'm a fan of the original movies and Stand-Alone-Complex tv-series. And I felt like I had to say SOMETHING about the movie.

And boy, did I need to have to say something.

First off, is it good or bad? The answer is: neither. It's certainly not a bad movie. The visuals are spectacular (even the haters have admitted that), and the music score is really good (they even included some of Kenji Kawai's tracks on the soundtrack). And yes, the world building and character designs are really good.

But the major problem of this movie has (outside of the whitewashing issue)... is the story.

Problem #1: Whitewashing? Does it matter?

Look, first off: If there was any franchise in anime history where it doesn't matter what ethnicity its main character is, it's Ghost in the Shell. The body is a full cyborg, and the author had already confirmed that the Major's looks were based on western models. So her having a Caucasian look-and-feel is pretty normal. Same goes for Batou. And looking from that perspective, a lot of the casting choices were spot-on!

ScarJo is in my eyes a perfect Major, and while I was skeptic of the translation of Aramaki and Batou, the movie incarnations (Takeshi Kitano and Pilou Asbæk) put down really accurate performances.

But even if I'm perfectly able to defend the casting choices, I do get where the criticism is coming from and the criticism is 100% legit. If enough Asian-Americans (and Asians in general) were being cast in (big) Hollywood movies, the casting of GitS wouldn't really be that much of an issue. But the opportunities for Asian actors are so slim, most of them are just getting annoyed by "the next big missed opportunity". And it shows everywhere. Have you taken a look at the list of Oscar nomination for Asian Actors? Don't... it's depressing.

Also, the story twist about the major's origin? That's not helping. That's only putting oil on the fire (*facepalm*).

Problem #2: Cramming too much in one movie

This movie is an homage to the original Mamori Oshii movie, but it also takes in elements from Stand Alone Complex (both the ending of the first season as well as the Individual Eleven arc - of all things) and even takes in some story elements from Arise (WHY Arise of all things)? And if that wasn't enough, it tries to mix those and broadening up the scope so people can understand the movie (thus removing almost all of the symbolism the original was known for).

What we're left with is... mediocre. It's not bad, really... It's just not anything good either.

Problem #3: Obvious script rewrites

It may be because I'm a writer myself, but it's sometimes really obvious to see where the script rewrites start happening (either that, or it's just a little TOO obvious).

The scenes that rely on previous source material tend to be well made and thought-out. But when the movie tries to be its own thing (thus script rewrites), it falters. And the moment the rewrites start happening is exactly in the second half. The moment the major is captured by Kuze. From that point onward the story went downhill fast.

And while the first half of the movie was exciting and interesting and genuinely made me wonder where the criticism came from, the second half made it pretty clear.

Problem #4: Mixing the Puppet Master and Kuze creates plot holes

The Puppet Master was an amazing antagonist. Kuze from Stand Alone Complex was an "okay" villain (who made great action scenes). So why mix those? The reason why the Puppet Master was a feared enemy and great hacker, was because he was an Artificial Intelligence. Everything he did against humanity was from the point of view that it wasn't a human being. Making the villain suddenly turn into a "discarded human" is not only stupid, it creates a lot of plot holes. Talking about the plot holes sadly enough would spoil the movie, so I'll shut my mouth here

Not to mention, it does tremendous injustice to both the original Puppet Master AND the original Kuze.

Problem #5: Cutter is a horribly boring antagonist.

Oh, is this a spoiler? I mean: you could see it from the first look of his face, right? It pretty much screamed: "I am evil! I am evil!" The only things missing were a curly mustache and a comically evil laugh... and a monocle!

And when you boil it down, his entire plan didn't make much sense to begin with. Not to mention the execution of his plan. The more you start to think about it, the more your head is starting to hurt because of the amount of stupid in it.

Problem #6: Section 9 is underused.

Though, this is a minor issue. I kind of expected it, since the existence of Section 9 in the original movie was kept to the bare bones minimum as well. The characters of Section 9 were only really fleshed out in the Stand Alone Complex and Arise series.

And while it was fun for a fanboy to see this movie's incarnation of Ishikaya (the beard!), Togusa and Saito, it was still a crying shame to see them being so underused.

Heck, during the first mission debriefing, Chief Aramaki gives orders to the Major, Bato and Togusa. The rest of the Team IN THAT ROOM get no orders whatsoever. They basically don't exist for the chief!

And boy, Togusa. I could go on a rant for how cut away Togusa is to almost non-existent. But I guess that was already obvious from the footage that was leaked in advance. So I didn't have much expectations for his character.

Is it all bad?

No, not at all! The visuals are AMAZING! I was often just gawking at the screen at the visuals and world building used. The sound is great! And the many references to the original movie were great to look at from a fanboy's point of view.

And one addition I did like was Batou's eyes. At the start of the movie, Batou has normal eyes. But due to the story progress, he has to shift to his cybernetic eyes. And it makes sense in this story structure. It really helps to sell his character. I know it's totally not fitting with the source material. But let's face it. If you would see Batou's face with the cyber-eyes, you'd be freaked out by his appearance. Again, it helps sell the character to a broader audience.

What would I score it?

A 6,5-7 out of 10. It's not bad, and as a fan of the franchise as a whole you SHOULD go and watch it. But it's not good enough to rewatch anytime soon. If anything, we'll have forgotten this movie exists with a year or two.

Long story short (tl;dr): A good looking movie where the story could've been a lot better.

That's it from me now.

Until next time, V out.

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