Paramount Pictures’ “Ghost In The Shell” looks to adapt Masamune Shirow’s popular cyberpunk manga into a live-action film, starring Scarlett Johansson as the cyborg-human hybrid The Major. While fans were eager to see the tale retold on the big screen, there was a loud outcry over concerns of whitewashing with the choice of Johansson — a Caucasian woman — playing an Asian character.
With concerns and criticism hovering over the project, early reviews have started to roll in on “Ghost in the Shell” and it’s certainly a mixed bag. In fact, CBR’s review of the film calls it “unrelentingly boring and, ultimately, astonishingly offensive.” Below is a selection of what the critics are saying about “Ghost in the Shell”:
Kwame Opam, The Verge: “As a live-action adaptation of a cherished anime masterpiece, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a technically solid, though lesser, homage to the film and the sundry TV series that inspired it. It wrestles ably with questions about posthumanity and individuality in a visually sumptuous origin story that leaves plenty of room for follow-up. And maybe that would be enough, if it weren’t for the controversy at the heart of the film. Where 1995’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ skirted the problem of race almost entirely, the update not only brings it to the surface, but makes it into a monster. The approach exposes the cracks in the aging premises that informed the first film, and possibly even the entire cyberpunk genre.”
Matt Goldberg, Collider: “When the full picture of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ comes into view, a depressingly soulless film comes into view. The movie is packed with neat visuals, but so is a DeviantArt page. The story wants credit for presenting humans melded with cybernetic and then asking, ‘What does it mean when we cede our bodies to machines,’ but refusing to really engage with those ideas. In a better film that explores Major’s ownership of her own body from start to finish, a scene where she’s assaulted in a nightclub has meaning. But because the script doesn’t have the wherewithal to thoughtfully explore that subtext, it becomes an icky scene where Major essentially blends a pole dance with kung fu. It’s a movie that would like credit for being deep and thoughtful when it’s clearly just an empty shell.”
Terri Schwartz, IGN: “As an adaptation of an iconic and beloved source material, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ understands what makes this franchise special and does a good job translating that to the big screen. It looks great and doesn’t feel like it’s just copying the anime and manga’s aesthetic, instead capturing what makes them stand apart to begin with. The story stumbles in the third act and doesn’t fully bring its talking points to a satisfying conclusion, but Ghost in the Shell’s successes outshadow its problems.”
Brian Truitt, USA Today: “Despite the beautiful eye-popping world it creates, the sci-fi film ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a defective mess with lifeless characters, missed chances for thematic exploration and a minefield of political incorrectness.”
Rebecca Pahle, Polygon: “‘Ghost in the Shell,’ by contrast, is a movie that says absolutely nothing. It’s a generic story told by a generic director in a generic way. The plot, predictable as it is, trundles along only because our heroes repeatedly prove themselves oblivious to obvious traps. A major plot point hinges on a woman opening up to a complete stranger about her dead daughter within 30 seconds of meeting her … because, sure, that’s what people do? The film doesn’t even bother explaining the villain’s motivation.
Not a single joke or moment of levity is present. Not a single idea is introduced. It’s pretty weird that a movie about a human/robot hybrid wouldn’t seek to tackle issues regarding artificial intelligence, free will, and what makes a human human. And yet, here’s ‘Ghost in the Shell,’ which tosses off some pseudo-intellectual dialogue about how our memories don’t define us or how Major’s “more than human and more than AI” ( … how?) and then just walks away without engaging with those ideas at all.”
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “‘[Ghost in the Shell]’ is a spectacular movie, watchable in its way, but one which – quite apart from the ‘whitewashing’ debate – sacrifices that aspect from the original which over 20 years has won it its hardcore of fans: the opaque cult mystery, which this film is determined to solve and to develop into a resolution, closed yet franchisable. As for Johansson, she carries off the deadpan cyber-eroticism of her role with that ghost-in-the-shell of a smile of hers: although none of the other cyber-creatures are required to get quasi-nude in the same saucy way. Her otherworldly creature from Jonathan Glazer’s classic horror ‘Under the Skin’ was a thousand times more disturbing and the obvious superhero quality of the role here, sometimes makes her seem like a more solemn version of Black Widow, her character in the Avengers movies.”
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: “Director Rupert Sanders (‘Snow White and the Huntsman’) doesn’t quite know what to do with the backstory he’s been handed, but he sure knows how to make it shiny: His ‘Ghost [in the Shell]’ is visually stunning; a glittering, menacing dystopia set in an unnamed Asian metropolis that looks like ‘Blade Runner’ with a billionaire’s budget and the benefit of 30 additional years of film technology. And it has the post-humans to match: Specifically Major Mira Killian (Johansson), a scientific marvel who emerges from a pool of alabaster goo like a white-chocolate Cadbury crème egg, unblinking and sublime. ‘You are the first of your kind,’ she is told by her tender, lab-coated creator Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). ‘A human mind in a cybernetic frame.'”
Jake Coyle, ABC News: “Rupert Sanders’ remake of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 influential anime classic, from Masamune Shirow’s Japanese manga comics, is a dazzling dystopia. Yet like its sleek, cybernetic protagonist, it’s haunted by a fundamental defect — a bug in the system — that can’t be dispelled, that doesn’t pass, despite the considerable cyberpunk splendor of Sanders’ eye-popping visual feast. It’s the rare movie to earn its ‘Blade Runner’ comparisons. But it also earns its controversy.”
Kallie Plagge, Gamespot: “Even though ‘Ghost in the Shell’ does things well–its stylized take on the original’s sci-fi, its often well-choreographed action, its exciting pace–it doesn’t accomplish the main thing it intends to. The movie not only doesn’t answer or even truly explore the questions it raises, it also mishandles a story about identity by largely excluding the people it’s about. That’s a critical failure, and one that cannot be rectified by cool-looking geisha robots.”
Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant: “The new movie from director Rupert Sanders (‘Snow White and the Huntsman’), ‘Ghost in the Shell’ in part suffers from what could be dubbed ‘John Carter’ syndrome” – in the sense that the once-groundbreaking sci-fi elements from the film’s source material are much less innovative now, after serving as inspiration for and being recycled by numerous other works that have come since then (‘The Matrix’ being perhaps the most notable example). Compounding the issue is that ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has mixed success in its efforts to reimagine the source material’s cyberpunk story and setting, in an aesthetically unique and thematically-rich fashion here. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ struggles to dig below the surface of its thought-provoking concepts and bring real depth to its striking visuals.”
Based on Masamune Shirow’s popular cyberpunk manga, as well as Mamoru Oshii’s anime adaptations, the live-action film stars Johansson as a cyborg-human hybrid who leads Section 9, a task force assigned to stop cyber-criminals. Now they face a new enemy devoted to destroying Hanka Robotic’s artificial intelligence technology.
Directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Hunstman”), “Ghost in the Shell” also stars Daisuke Aramaki, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, and Kaori Momoi. The films opens Friday nationwide.