‘Ghost in the Shell’ Review

Director: Rupert Sanders

Writers: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara, and Juliette Binoche

Synopsis: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved form a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based, maybe to many loosely based, off the comic by Masamune Shirow and the hit anime in the early 90s, Ghost in the Shell has been under the radar for some time now. Whether it be the fact that most people think it shouldn’t have been remade or – the big one – the white washing controversy, the film has certainly been in the public eye so it indeed to impress a lot of people to justify it being made. Unfortunately, Ghost in the Shell impresses at the right moments, but then it becomes a bit bland and shallow.

Set in future Tokyo where people are now okay with doing cybernetic implants, we follows Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), who after an accident which only leaves her brain intact, a company called Hanka places her brain in a state-of-the-art robot body that will allow her to pass as human. We skip forward  a year, and she now works for a government division called Section 9, a tactical response unit tasked with hunting down terrorist, and is now known as The Major. The team soon realizes that they have a serious threat in Kuze (Michael Pitt), a terrorist who is hacking into and killing members of the Hanka robotics company. However, as the investigation goes on The Major starts to remember things from her past that throws the investigation in a different direction.

I’m going to throw this out there now, I haven’t seen the original anime – yet – I’ve wanted to for some time now, and wanted to before watching this, but time caught up with me and I couldn’t. So everything in this review is going to be based off this film, and solely this film. So please forgive me if I think something works or doesn’t work, but is essential to the anime or original source material.

Let’s start off with the cast, since that’s the biggest thing everyone was talking about before watching the actual movie. Scarlett Johansson does fine playing the conflicted character trying to figure out her place in the world, but also bound by duty to take down Kuze. Pilou Asbaek plays Major’s friend and partner Batou, who, honestly, doesn’t get enough screen time, Peter Ferdinando is a Hanka company man named Cutter who’s has a history with the program Major was a part of. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki, Major and Batou’s boss who only speaks in Japanese, who also could have used more screen time considering the role he plays later on in the film.

Juliette Binoche plays Dr. Ouelet, the lead scientist that makes Major who she is, and while Binoche puts her best effort into the role, her character – to me – doesn’t rise up to the stakes her character should have been. Speaking of that, Michael Pitt’s Kuze is pretty disappointing. Not only is he not in the film enough, he only has one real good scene with Johansson which reveal the beginning of the secrets for Major. It’s nothing against Pitt either, he’s just not in the film long enough to really give Kuze that level of importance the film tries to five him at the beginning of the film. The rest of the cast, well, they’re just there unfortunately.

Ghost in the Shell also tries to ask the important deep question like what makes you human and can Major be an actual individual? But the film spends little time actually digging into to those questions, and instead takes the sci-fi crime thriller action route. Which would be fine if this wasn’t a remake of Ghost in the Shell – from what I heard anyway – and this was an original film, but it isn’t and it hurts the film in the long run. What also hurts the film is the white washing controversy does come to the forefront in multiple ways.

One is like I mentioned earlier, Kitano’s Aramaki only speaks in Japanese – and everyone else speaks to him in English. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s one of the only real Asian in the film who has a major role – Yutaka Izumihara plays a character named Saito, who I’m not even kidding, I think only has two scenes and Chin Han, who plays a character named Han, who is a member of Section 9, but doesn’t really do anything to stand out. However, the biggest way the issue lingers is near the end when you figure out what happened in Major’s past. You can make the argument that it makes sense to do that, but at the same time it is kind of stupid and disrespectful to the point that it took me out of the film completely. It’s not the best way to go, especially in a film that people were already up in arms about.

All in all, Ghost in the Shell isn’t a groundbreaking film like its predecessors. The one redeeming thing about the film, if you want to look at it that way, is the visual effects. It really gives you a sense of how different the world is, and it should be too much of a shock considering it is directed by Rupert Sanders, who got his start doing visual effects. However, like his previous film in Snow White and the Huntsman, Ghost in the Shell is all show with very little substance.

Ghost in the Shell

3 out of 5

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‘Godzilla’ Review

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Dir: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, David Stratharin and Juliette Binoche

Synopsis: The world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The King of the Monsters is back! This time taking on a more gritty and realistic approach to the big monster. Of course the Godzilla monster has a huge fan base, and well deserved, but he hasn’t really had a well deserved outing in a long time. But it hasn’t really been directors, writers or producers fault all the time. Godzilla is a pretty difficult character to nail. He’s been a hero and a villain.  He’s been a loaded symbol and an just something to take a massive amount of space. Finally, he’s a cultural icon and a punchline. But, director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) has created almost a labor of love that attempts to draw from the monster’s rich history to appeal to fans, but alienate people who are not familiar with the history and only know the name. It’s a rather ambitious and daring thing to do but Edwards somehow manages to pull it off.

 

The movie starts off in the Philippines in 1999. Scientists Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Hawkins) go to a collapsed mine and discover a cavern that houses not only a ribcage, but also two mysterious spores, as they call them.  But they soon realize that something has crawled out and has made its way to the sea. We then go to Tokyo, where a seismic event causes the collapse of a power plant, and engineer Joe Brody (Cranston) loses his wife Sandra (Binoche) in the tragedy (NOT A SPOILER since it’s in trailers).

 

Fifteen years later, their son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is working in EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) in the navy, but is forced to travel to Japan and bail his estranged father out of prison.  Joe has been trying to figure out why the plant collapsed, and believes the answers are in Japan’s quarantine zone.  Ford reluctantly follows his father into the restricted area only to discover that his father’s crazy theories might not be so crazy after all.
I know one of the many things people are mad about this iteration of Godzilla is the fact that we don’t get enough Godzilla screen time. Instead the movie focus on the other monsters called “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). But I have to give credit to Edwards for his patience on revealing the big man himself. We get teases of Godzilla throughout the movie, first by seeing the spikes on his back in the beginning sequence of the movie. But after that, we get mostly see the destruction that he leaves behind with a tease of a tail or foot.

 

However, it’s not just the Godzilla monster, the whole movie is a slow burner. The structure and pacing is quite similar to the 1954 original. I think some people won’t appreciate the pacing because modern audiences what rapid pace storytelling. But, it is the pace that makes the final act mean a hell of a lot more and a spectacle to see. Moreover, it is that pace that makes the reveal of Godzilla just the more awesome. Once we get the full reveal with the roar, it is terrifying and an amazing sight to see.

 

But, as fun as it is to see Godzilla and the MUTOs smashing and destroying things as they fight to the death, it shouldn’t be what carries to the story despite how people feel about that. One of the things that every critic blasts in big monster movies nowadays is the human story. Now I’ll admit I liked seeing Godzilla go toe-to-toe against the MUTOs but we need to know what the people in the middle of these two behemoths are thinking and going through.

 

As mentioned before, the story mostly follows Ford as he becomes tangled with stopping the MUTOs and Godzilla with the military. Throughout all that, he also tries to get back to his wife Elle (Olsen) and his young son Sam (Carson Bolde). On the other side we have the government lead by Admiral Stenz (Strathairn) with the help of the scientists played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. Wantabe’s Dr. Serizawa (the same name as the scientist is the original) is fascinated by the monsters, even seeing Godzilla as monster that is simply keeping the balance of nature. His sentiments fall on deaf ears as the government only sees the monsters as a threat and try to the keep the people that, unfortunately, are standing in the middle. Also, just a bonus, Wantabe does have the best line in the movie.

 

But possibly the strongest arc of the human story, is at the beginning with Cranston’s Joe Brody and wife Sandra, played by Juliette Binoche. It’s a bit rare to get such a strong and emotional beginning in these kinds of movies, but Cranston and Binoche performances make that beginning gut-wrenching even for a Godzilla movie. Cranston, to probably no surprise, gives the best performance as a man who has lost everything he cares about and just wants answers.

 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s hero character is not obviously going to eclipse Godzilla but he does a descent job of playing the human hero. Although as a man who is forced into the situation, I did hope that he would have been a little more to his character. Elizabeth Olsen, who is impressively talented, has very little to do in this.

 

But let us not forget the big man. Godzilla is truly a force of nature. His presence is felt every time he’s on screen and you can clearly see why everyone is in shock and awe. He’s also gone through so many different looks that seeing this version of him, it feels right. People have been complaining that his Godzilla is a bit “fat” which seems almost stupid to say considering he’s a force of nature. But his “fatness” doesn’t factor into his movements or even his attacks against the MUTOs. Briefly, the MUTOs have an interesting design themselves and play mostly the villains of the piece.

 

The movie does take itself seriously but there are welcomed amounts of humor that honestly surprised me. Not to the point where it takes away from the seriousness but moments that really fit into the story and feeling. But the other thing that movie does, that I’ve briefly touched on, is the movie pays a tremendous amount of the respect to the rich history of Godzilla. A Godzilla fan will catch most of the homage’s and references the movie makes. But, unlike most remakes, the movie makes the history an actual part of the overall story.
 

All in all, Godzilla shows that with the right approach The King of the Monsters can be the great monster that he once was and that we remember to be. The movie is a slow burner but once the action picks up you won’t be able to look away, especially when Godzilla shows up. The movie will divide fans but I hope that people will appreciate how much respect the filmmakers have put into this version of Godzilla.

 

 

Godzilla

5 out of 5