Could Ghost in the Shell be adapted in live action with Scarlett Johansson for an international audience? For some the answer is necessarily no. However, after watching Rupert Sanders’ feature film without prejudice, we are far from being categorical. Criticism.
Major is a sublime creature, a perfect cybernetic woman. Human augmented – or reduced to an interlacing of printed circuit boards – Major is not only beautiful, she is beyond humanity. A sulfurous cyborg whose boldness and pugnacity are only equalled by her inner turmoil, our heroine will soon experience the limits of her bastard condition. Thus begins the tale, now cult and soon to be in its thirties, written as a soap opera by Shirow Masamune in the early 1990s.
Shocked by polemics, by demanding, even dogmatic fans,Ghost in the Shell has not known any state of grace in the Western press. The otakus screamed at the crime of lese-majesty and critics worried that Hollywood was once again appropriating a work by taking away its colour, style and origins. So in order to approach the feature film that you will find in theatres on March 29th in the best possible way, we have chosen to make an almost naive reading of the work.
By naivety we mean in fact a will to free ourselves from all readings that would interfere with the discovery of an autonomous work that rests on its own foundations and does not depend on manga or anime.
For it is perhaps the first of the successes of this Ghost in the Shell2017: it requires little cultural background to grasp the issues at stake. And as live action, the film complements the already prolific franchise, not as a complement, but as an interpretation, an additional subjectivity brought to Masamune’s literary project.
Is it an accurate transcription? Certainly not, despite a plethora of striking scenes: the jumps in the void, the confrontation with the criminal with the tampered memory, or the opening in media res with the attack of the geisha robots. But beyond these references that readers will recognize, Rupert Sanders’ film is unique and self-sufficient.
First of all, thanks to a visual universe that bluffs by its details and its permanent inventiveness that makes it a real visual ballet that surpasses even the most sophisticated productions of these last months (Star TrekandDocteur Strangethat were already sumptuous).
In this, Sanders and his producer, Avi Arad, have achieved an unexpected cinematic performance, which always manages to surprise our retinas with a total and complete universe. Like a Cameron andAvatar or even Lucas andStar Wars,the live action ofGhost in the Shellhas its own closed world in which all cyberpunk fantasies come to life without us being offended to see the rules of physics, mathematics and computer science being amply distorted in favour of fiction.
The fictional Tokyo set is a fascinating cinematic object…
The city alone, the fictional Tokyo that serves as the permanent setting for Major’s adventure, is a fascinating cinematic object: a veritable chaotic labyrinth cradled by sublimely vulgar visual pollution, a luminous anthill, a Dantesque hell and a nightmare of post-modern urbanism, the city is told through visual effects. There is already in this representation a latent, cynical criticism of an undesirable future, populated by mirages and where the city as a place of life is devoured by a deadly capitalism.
Guillaume Rocheron, the Frenchman who supervises the visual effects, went through the Snyder school with whom he worked on the DC franchises. He draws from these experiences an obvious audacity, a taste for spectacular details, slow motion that is digitally enriched with movement and beauty – and for parallel worlds that have, in fact, no lesson in plausibility to be learned. The factory suffers from few flaws if we accept, as the film invites us to do, to forget what we know about the future and install our darkest fantasies.
The prowess of the image is accompanied by an equally surrealist photography, the palette mixes electric blues with deep greys, numerous lens effects and a few fluo notes, very 80’s, to perfect the inevitably modernised interpretation of the cyperpunk codes of the end of the last century. Always in the aesthetic vein, let’s highlight beautiful sound effects and a very convincing soundtrack.
But beyond the show, what remains of the moral tale of progress that Masamune delivered in his early drawings? Already, without wanting to spoil it too much, it is necessary to see that the film is a rewriting that splits the development of the subject into two very distinct stages.
The only guideline that allows the feature film to keep its breath and not to be too slow – it is, despite everything – is the adaptation of a very polar style in the writing. Major is launched into an investigation that will lead her, as is often the case in thrillers, to unearth not only the criminal, but also the unknown in each of us. Now this is how the bow ofGhost in the Shell:is built: first we find a perfect object, attracting covetousness and admiration that little by little seems to fragment before our eyes.
LikeWestworld, it is the memories stored in the memory ofghost(the soul) of the Major that will destroy the high-tech object that is the cyborg. All is said when memories that appear unexpectedly to heroin are calledglitches, visual bugs, by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche).
This is how the different paradoxes that GitS deals with – because the film is not at all as talkative as the manga could be – are unfolded with restraint: the dichotomy between reality and virtuality, between being and essence, and finally, between identity and the present.
In terms of casting, Scarlett Johansson offers a performance that is unique to the film, which sometimes lacks depth in its characters. As sensitive as she is inaccessible, the actress encapsulates all the ambiguity of her character in a sort of double facet: on the one hand, a piercing, very expressive look, through which all of the character’s humanity flows, and on the other, a cold, distant machine, blind to human emotions, which materializes in the rigor and inexpressiveness of Johansson’s face.
Moreover, the Binoche – Johansson duo proves to be surprisingly credible; on the one hand the doctor who mothers his creature, on the other hand the creature who feels his singularity and loneliness at every moment despite the admiration he receives from his creators.
Where the script works less well is when it is too ambitious and wishes to integrate too many narrative arcs that are not always completed. Thus, the political aspect of the universe is repeatedly addressed without being cut and dried – in the same way, certain aspects necessary for a complete understanding of the functioning of this fictional world are missing.
And sometimes it would take more than the film gives us to understand the moral and scientific issues at stake. Without these keys to understanding, the imaginary and fascinating world of this Ghost in the Shellsounds hollow and loses its legitimacy to assert itself as spectacular and moral mainstream entertainment.
Finally, if we were enthusiastic about the different visual effects and the art direction, overdose is sometimes close, especially in the fight scenes, whose slow motion is tiring, like a Snyder just when he forces too much on his visual delirium.
However, in conclusion, we must admit that live action is far from being the massacre so much promised. It’s actually a good introduction for a franchise that we bet will have a sequel and could prove to be as thorough as an MCU if Hollywood wants it to be.
Indicative note : 4/5
Balanced, visually inventive and rather well executed,Ghost in the Shellis not the announced sinking. On the contrary, it is a singular blockbuster, which is likely to mark the beginning of 2017 with its very clear-cut aesthetic codes and its mix of genres between sci-fi, thrillers and psychological films.
However, he is not the blockbuster of the year either. Its rhythm is often poorly managed, giving the film a slow pace even though it is relatively short — an impression that is certainly due to laborious plot developments. But that’s far from spoiling the fun.
- Scarlett Johansson on top
- Visual prowess
- The philosophy of manga subtly brought
- The camera that prefers SFX to actors
- The holes in the plot
- Snyder © eye strain is never far away