Review – Ghost in the Shell (2017)

You may have expected to see this review drop, already, but I put it off for a couple of days until I could get to an IMAX theater.  It felt necessary.  Aside from standing out for its powerful visuals, Ghost in the Shell – like so many other films in recent months – has been the subject of some controversy due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead.  Critics are accusing director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) of “whitewashing” without bothering to see all sides of the situation (or even the film) or having any idea what the creative reasoning behind the choice might be.  Bah.  These people are exhausting.  And, upon seeing the movie, they should actually feel foolish.  Even if that wasn’t the case, so much more goes into casting roles than skin color.  For most roles, it isn’t and shouldn’t be the most important factor.  I won’t address it any further.  I’m here to talk about the film from an objective point of view.

And objective it is because I’m completely clueless regarding the Ghost in the Shell property.  I’ve never read the comic nor seen the original animated film.  I really should, I know.  I’m not avoiding it, or anything.  I just never got around to it.  So, that means I can look at this adaptation fairly, without any sort of fanboy entitlement or pre-film emotional investment in tact and coloring my opinion.

There are several key components of the film worth addressing.  In no particular order, I’ll begin with its look and cinematography.  Visually speaking, Ghost in the Shell is, quite frankly, stunning.  The set design and decoration is the best I’ve seen in years and among my favorite that I’ve ever witnessed.  The futuristic Japanese setting is recognizable while also being stylistically elevated.  The camera sweeps through the cityscape as the film progresses from scene to scene and, in IMAX 3D, the viewer feels as though they, themselves, are flying through an imaginative world of the future.  It’s nearly impossible to not be completely immersed in this world as the film presents escapist entertainment with the highest proficiency.

Upon the first action scene – a one-on-one battle – I was a little disappointed.  That initial fight, while perfectly adequate, felt no different from what can be seen in any generic action movie that could be pulled off the shelf at the last Blockbuster (The last Blockbuster actually closed years ago.  Ever wonder what the final movie ever rented at a Blockbuster was?  Take a look.  It’s oddly poetic.).  I was concerned at that moment that we were getting a beautiful film with lazy, uninspired action.  I wanted the same level of creativity and panache in those fight scenes as we were seeing in the set and character designs.

Fortunately, with each subsequent battle, the flash and flare of the surrounding artistry bleeds into the excitement with increasing veracity.  The final climax is truly something unique and unexpected and is exactly what I was hoping to see from this film.  On one hand, it would have been nice to get that from the very start but, on the other, there’s something to be said for a nice, steady build.  So, pick your poison.

The story is where I truly had no expectations as I took my seat.  I couldn’t have been less knowledgeable regarding what this film was actually about.  So, as I’ve already established, I have no idea, whatsoever, how close the film hews to its origins but, as a Ghost in the Shell virgin, I can say that I enjoyed it.  The film is a mix of sci-fi, action, mystery, and crime-thriller, and it all flows smoothly.  There isn’t an overwhelming mountain of important characters, which works as an introduction to this world.  With all of the visuals and technology serving as a distraction, the narrative is acutely kept relatively straightforward while serving up enough depth, surprises, and twists to keep things fun and interesting.  There is a mid-film revelation that is honestly a bigger deal for the characters than it is for the audience.  But it serves to add layers to our primary cast of characters and contribute urgency to the proceedings.  It’s not exactly revelatory, but it serves the purpose, it hooks the viewer (or it hooked me, at least.  “Speak for yourself, Stephen!”  Yeah.  I am.), and it ramps up the narrative and propels it towards a thrilling conclusion.  It also shuts up those critics who like to whine about movies they haven’t even seen, yet.

So, my first exposure to Ghost in the Shell in any of its forms was a good one.  The 2017 hot streak continues.  Sure, The Great Wall was a snooze-fest and A Cure for Wellness was an outright disaster, but most of the films I’ve seen, so far this year, have been competent at worst and outright fantastic at best.  So, keep it up, 2017!  In conclusion, while I wouldn’t say that Ghost in the Shell is the most must-see film in theaters, right now, it’s certainly a fun option if it looks like your cup of tea.

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