‘Ghost in the Shell’ Review Roundup: What the Critics Are Saying

Ghost in the Shell
Courtesy of Paramount

Ghost in the Shell” — the polychromatic, Westernized live-action reboot of Masamune Shirow’s cult manga series of the same name — opens wide this weekend.

Although Rupert Sanders’ remake has been slammed for its controversial casting of Scarlett Johansson in the film’s (originally Japanese) headlining role, critics have begun to roll out their reviews — and the consensus looks like something of a mixed bag.  The VFX masterminds behind the film’s composite, techno-metropolis backdrop are praised for their aesthetic prowess, which pays homage to Mamoru Oshii’s animated adaptations in the mid-90s. But, despite its glossy veneer, it seems as though this iteration of a long-established series has, ironically, been whittled down to a shell of its original spirit. To this end, reviews credit the film’s exhaustive cultural overhaul, but have mixed reactions to Johansson’s performance. See what critics have to say below.

Variety‘s Guy Lodge

Spectacularly honoring the spirit and aesthetic of Mamoru Oshii’s beloved animated adaptations without resorting wholly to slavish cosplay, this is smart, hard-lacquered entertainment that may just trump the original films for galloping storytelling momentum and sheer, coruscating visual excitement — even if a measure of their eerie, melancholic spirit hasn’t quite carried over to the immaculate new carapace. Box office returns should be muscular, minting what could be one of the more enticing franchises in a multiplex landscape riddled with robotic do-overs.

New York Times’ Manohla Dargis

Stripped of its deeper-dish musings, the story turns into a perfectly watchable, somewhat bland action movie, tricked out with sharp details, some fine actors and one slumming legend, the director-actor Takeshi Kitano, who plays Aramaki, Major’s boss. He only speaks in Japanese; Major and almost everyone else speak in English.

The characters understand one another, presumably because they’re beyond mere language and, in any event, they sometimes communicate telepathically. At first, the fact that they can speak to one another comes across as an inventive flourish, but like so much in “Ghost in the Shell” — the toddling geishas, the Asian extras — it helps to reduce an entire culture to a decorative detail. The movie has been widely criticized for casting Ms. Johansson in a role that was, of course, originally Japanese, a decision that isn’t offset by an absurd narrative twist that seems to have been created to forestall criticism but will only provoke further ire. This isn’t just appropriation; it’s obliteration.

Rolling Stone’s David Fear

In the end, you get Johansson spinning her wheels in a stock hero’s-journey story that feels stripped for exotic spare parts. The secret-sharer sense you got from watching the original, the idea that you had come across a low-frequency transmission that felt subversive yet familiar enough to strike a chord, has been surgically removed. All that’s left is big-budget cybersploitation scrubbed for a global audience, a machine designed to collect money. Who stole the soul? For a movie steeped in aspects of the singularity, there’s nothing very singular about this Ghost in the Shell at all.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer

The original film managed to be both violent and philosophical, putting the viewer in an uneasy place and pushing us to ponder the future of humanity in an increasingly computerized world — a world that would have a huge influence on the Wachowskis’ magnum opus, all the way down to the cable ports in the back of each character’s head. Here we get a taste of that ambiance, but it feels more like a backdrop than the crux of the story, which boils down to yet another good vs. evil scenario where no mystery is left unsolved and conflicts are tied up in an all-too Hollywood way.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw

It 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. It has been standardised and westernised with hardly any actual Japanese characters left in it, and effectively reimagined as a superhero origin myth, with tropes derived from the existing templates laid down by Metropolis, Robocop, Blade Runner and Total Recall. The film incidentally makes some play with rudimentary Hawking-style robot voices. There are some stately cameos from Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano.

Forbes’s Scott Mendelson

The most impressive thing about Ghost in the Shell is how quiet it is. Like Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy, this is another case of a hard sci-fi thriller/drama being sold as a slam-bang action movie. And yes, you do get sequences of Johansson’s major kicking butt and shooting folks, but it’s more about periodic bouts of quick violence than sustained action. The film doesn’t really become a conventional blockbuster until basically the brief action climax. Like the 1995 animated film on which it is based (I cannot speak to the literary source material), it is a meditative and almost soft-spoken meditation on how much humanity remains when our physical parts are no longer ours or even organic.

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  1. We very Much enjoyed Ms.Johansen’s performance…With no back drop from previous movies, script or book? Alot to be said for the way she embodied Lucy and this character.. with realism from our daily technological advances and diabolical agendas.

  2. Chaos_Model says:

    These critic comments are precisely why I won’t be seeing this. Nothing against Scarlette (she’s a good actress), but this and Akira are two of my all time favorite anime titles, for Hollywood to take something so iconic and reduce it to nothing more than cgi and a story that lacks what the original GitS represented is just another testament to westernized mentality. Back in 2012, director Keishi Ōtomo released the live action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, and OMG….it was amazing. Easily the best translated anime series to have been remade. It’s sad that GitS didn’t have the same passion behind the story, but seemed to try to awe and amaze with visual effects.

    • Phaeron says:

      That is a shame because the movie is like a love letter to the franchise. This is not an attempt to remake the 1995 movie. Instead, it pays homage to the Ghost in the Shell Manga, Ghost in the Shell the Movie, Ghost in the Shell 2 Innocence, Stand Alone Complex, Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Arise, and Ghost in the Shell: Solid State.

      The plot is heavily influenced by all these movies. The Geisha scene is a mixture of Stand Alone Complex, Innocence, and the opening scene of the first movie. The Major feels like a fusion of Arise, Stand Alone complex, and the first movie. She has the first movies brooding sense of discomfort with herself, the accessibility of Stand Alone’s, and the new to the scene feel of the Major from Arise.

      Rupert Sanders actually made a movie for the fans and I think that is why there is a disconnect. Everyone seems to think this was trying to capture the 1995 movie while this actually captured the feel of the entire franchise.

  3. wneal5796 says:

    All controversy aside. I was able to enjoy it. Still feel the important part comes through despite some iffy creative choices in the making of this iteration. What does it mean to be human? Can humans make the transition? Will the ghost be in the machine? A new audience can find this tale and may not have otherwise. This is a very good thing.

  4. J. Nielson says:

    I saw this debacle coming from the moment I knew Spielberg was in charge. I’ve wished for a live-action JAPANESE Ghost In the Shell for MANY years. This is not what I want AT ALL. I’m sure every serious lover of the the original will agree with me. VERY disappointing!!

    • Mike Sorensen says:

      Spielberg has nothing to do with this film. I’m not sure what you’re referring to. That it’s a Dreamworks release? Spielberg doesn’t really even use that name any more (I believe he still owns a good chunk of the company) and he isn’t even listed as an executive producer (meaning ‘person that put up some money’).

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