Ghost in the Shell is easily one of the most controversial cases of the ‘whitewashing’ phenomenon currently prevalent in Hollywood. Of course, this is not a recent development within the media, with both Doctor Strange and Iron Fist coming under heavy criticism for their racially inaccurate casting decisions, and an ever-expanding list of other examples continuing to pile up. Fortunately, we live in an era where audiences are reluctant to tolerate inequality on screen anymore, and it appears that this film may be made an example of, to prove that point. But, does Ghost in the Shell hold up as a film in its own right?
Based on one of anime’s most influential tales, this film held high expectations from both cinephiles and anime enthusiasts. As a ground-breaking, revolutionary tale of gender identity and technological advancement, the 1995 masterpiece went on to inspire a shopping list of copycats, ranging from The Matrix to Avatar. But, unfortunately Ghost in the Shell was a victim of its own success before it had even been released. The common problem with adapting a film from influential material is that the final product is often reminiscent of its spiritual successors, so it’s difficult to see it beyond clichéd.
With a script as by-the-books as any other ‘near future’ Sci-Fi adventure we have seen over the past decade, you could be forgiven for mistaking the film as another shoddy Total Recall (DB: And that was very shoddy indeed) remake, or even a high-end Resident Evil sequel. As such, the script contains very similar beats to a range of other films that follow the well-trodden ‘forgotten identity’ trope commonly used in 21st century action movies. Scarlett Johansson gives an admirable performance as Major, a cybernetically-enhanced warrior working for an anti-terrorist organisation in this worlds futuristic, technophilic setting. In fact, Johansson hardly strays from her work as Marvel’s Black Widow here, the only differences really being hairstyle and less clothing.
Pilou Asbæk and Michael Pitt are excellent in their limited roles as hard-working company man Batou, and traumatised cyber-terrorist Hideo Kuze. Although Pitt clearly delivers the best he can from his underwritten material, Asbæk is the one who shines brightest in the film. The Game of Thrones star surprisingly manages to convey likeability, intensity and vulnerability within a part ever so tightly wrapped towards cliché.
The most positive aspect of the film is undeniably the stunning visuals on display from Rupert Sanders. Coming straight out of 2012’s Snow White and The Huntsman, Sanders is quickly making a name for himself as a visual auteur for a new age of special effects-driven cinema. Despite the script lacking any real heart or emotion, the world established within the film is truly a sight to behold. In fact, after a viewing in IMAX3D, it’s hard to believe any audience member leaving the theatre unimpressed with the magnificent special effects utilised.
Ghost in the Shell is a visual beauty but the script leaves a lot to be desired with the overwhelming sensation that Paramount have missed a golden opportunity. In an age where technology has corrupted modern culture the film sidelines a socially-relevant, thought-provoking drama for flashy effects and a tedious origin story. Themes and plot points are spoon-fed to the audience, with embarrassingly transparent excuses for the race-change of central characters. But with Paramount reportedly set to lose $60 million on the film, hopefully a lesson has been learned here. If we’re lucky, then this might ironically be the thing to bring films like Ghost in the Shell to the 21st century.
Ghost in the Shell is out now in IMAX (Click here to book at the BFI IMAX) and across the UK in cinemas.