So it’s Ghost in the Shell. I have never seen the anime film or read the books. I have nothing to say about the “whitewashing” controversy except that, story wrinkle aside [our heroine was a Japanese woman put in the body of Scarlett Johansson], this is conspicuously a Japanese entertainment made with a white lead. Then again, this movie would never, ever get made with an Asian lead, whatever awful thing that means about our world. So other than all that, how was it? I liked it!
What I liked most about it is that it’s serious sci-fi. We are seriously considering the issues of putting a brain into a mechanical body, and questions of who then owns and controls the body. It also looks awfully pretty. The credit sequence shows the assembly of the body, and is nicely entrancing. She was created by Juliette Binoche, and as we go through the film it becomes apparent that we needed Binoche’s acting experience, because she is called upon to use it, not just because we’re casting a name to get a level of respect. Blah, blah, Scarlett is created, trained to be a weapon, goes on various missions, has a hunky big bear best friend and fellow agent, and is frequently “naked” in a plastic suit like a Barbie—smooth crotch and breasts with no details. Throughout the movie, she will start to remember her past life, RoboCop style, and go on a journey of discovery and identity while having lots of gun and fistfights. Yes, I know that the original manga actually inspired RoboCop instead of the other way around, as well as Blade Runner, The Matrix and others.
On the way to the movie I was thinking how Scarlett Johansson is the only woman to make it solidly, consistently and unquestionably as an ass-kicking action star, and whatever that means, although she is certainly having a greater background influence on perception of gender than numerous well-intentioned think pieces. She also seems to excel in these movies in which she is an otherworldly intelligence inside a normal human body, between this, Under The Skin, Her and Lucy [and, arguably, The Avengers]. Evidence for why is found in this film, where she is able to just dive in and be a mindless robot and precise ass-kicking machine without a trace of irony, and with depths to her emptiness. She’s a bit of a special case! Who, watching Ghost World or The Man Who Wasn’t There, would have predicted that she’d shake out like this? Anyway, she’s demonstrates why she’s succeeding here, where she just runs with the idea that she starts out as a soulless mechanical creation, and is able to make being blank and emotionless interesting and rich with implications.
Other than that, there are real scenes, scenes in which people have conversations of moderate length that have tones and go through several diverse moments to reach conclusions… perhaps because the property is older, when movies had more fully fleshed-out scenes. As I said, by the end, you realize why you needed Juliette Binoche in her role, as she really has some acting to do. The conclusion of the movie is a bit of a disappointment, as nothing is really resolved, it’s more of a “And then: things continued as they were!” but I guess that’s a change and better than just having a big ending for its own sake.
The director’s previous film was Snow White and the Huntsman, which I quite liked. He was able to make the story interesting and keep the movement of the film lively, and he does the same thing here. Aside from further wonderment at Johansson and just where her story is leading, it’s just a decent-enough movie that’s better and more serious than I expected. That’s all.