Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell

Sarah Posted by Sarah at April 4, 2017 17:54:29 April 4, 2017 17:54:29

The live-action Ghost in the Shell, starring celebrated Asian actress Scarlett Johansson, totally bit it over the weekend. It did not meet even the softest expectations of a $20 million opening, and since the foreign markets failed to bail it out, it’s destined to go down as yet another expensive whitewashed bomb, joining the ranks of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Gods of Egypt, and Pan. (It’s almost like audiences care about authenticity.) Megan Colligan, President of Worldwide Distribution and Marketing at Paramount, blamed all the people that pointed out whitewashing is a bad idea, and said, “This movie wasn’t allowed to just be a movie,” as if her company didn’t MAKE IT THAT WAY. This also misses that March already cycled through four action tent poles with Logan, Kong, Power Rangers, and Life. You can’t release FIVE tent poles a month and have them all be winners. Overcrowding is going to kill the tent pole trend.

And it doesn’t help that Ghost in the Shell isn’t a good movie. It’s so f*cking boring it’s a challenge to stay awake. Scarlett Johansson, notable Asian, stars as Major Mira Killian, a special ops cyborg with a human brain in a robot body. We’re in a future where people voluntarily enhance themselves with cybernetic parts, but even by these standards, the Major is a rarity, the “first of her kind”. ScarJo looks very fetching with her Japanime bob and nearly-naked robot suit, and to her credit, she does an interesting thing where she carries herself stiffly, suggesting an unnatural and unfamiliar body. She tries really hard, but she can’t save this terrible movie and the ending is SO OFFENSIVE I am judging her hard for signing on in the first place.

We’re thrown into the deep end of this world, and for a movie where every frame is crammed full of sh*t, the visual storytelling is quite poor so we need title cards and a lot of heavy-handed exposition to explain what’s going on. Any filmmaker attempting to introduce us to a complicated new world should be forced to watch Joss Whedon’s Serenity and the 1989 B-movie classic Robot Jox to understand how background visuals can provide context and clues that fill in the blanks for the audience, leaving the characters to have more interesting conversations.

Director Rupert Sanders obviously did not study those movies, because his backgrounds are useless neon garbage that clutter the frame and offer nothing but distractions from the main action. (Also, while the whole movie is lit well enough, ScarJo is not as luminous as Kristen Stewart was in Snow White and the Huntsman, so I think Sanders kept his sh*t together this time.) But he can certainly set up beautiful images, and some of the sequences in the movie are a nifty combination of lovely and odd. Sanders should make a comic book movie—he’s all style and no substance, the perfect empty vessel filmmaker to carry out corporate commands while making it look good.

It’s just amazing that a movie with so much to look at in it is as boring as Ghost is, but this movie is PHENOMENALLY BORING. The Major is trying to find a terrorist, Kuze (Michael “Yay More Whitewashing” Pitt), who hacks people’s brains and no, that never really makes any sense. “Hacking brains” is the self-important version of “there’s a code that controls everything”. But then it turns out that the Major’s past is a lie and she has to find Kuze to discover her real identity and because Western sci-fi has been ripping of the original Ghost anime since the 1990s, it’s very clear from the beginning exactly what happened to the Major. This movie really wants us to think it’s smart, but it isn’t.

And then we get to the ending and it’s SO HILARIOUSLY ILL-ADVISED I’m still laughing and shaking my head. So the Major starts searching for her past and finds a Japanese woman living alone, her dead daughter’s room preserved under plastic tarps. She tells the Major how her daughter, a runaway, was living in the “lawless zone” and writing anti-technology manifestos, until one day she learned her daughter died in a police raid. Then she looks at the Major, played by Scarlett Johansson, and says, “You remind me of my daughter.”

Surely, you say, this movie can’t be about a Japanese girl’s brain being hijacked and put in Scarlett Johansson’s body? Surely the filmmakers couldn’t possibly think that’s a good idea, given the sh*t-storm that casting a white actress to play Motoko Kusanagi caused? Well, if you guessed “Yes, Paramount IS that dumb”, then ding ding ding, you’re a winner! Because that is EXACTLY what happens.

“Motoko Kusanagi” gets killed off-screen in the prequel part of the story and her brain is dumped into ScarJo’s body and renamed “Mira Killian”. Then, in the end, the Major reconciles with her Japanese mother and reclaims the name “Motoko Kusanagi”, which means, YES, THEY HIRED SCARLETT JOHANSSON TO PLAY AN ASIAN WOMAN. Forget all the “Major can be anything” rhetoric they tried, within their own damn movie they make it explicit that Motoko Kusanagi WAS Japanese and then BECOMES white through a brain transplant. Ghost in the Shell 2017 tries several half-assed messages, including one about consent and another about identity, but all it really says is that no one at Paramount understands irony.

Attached - ScarJo at the Ghost in the Shell premiere in New York last week.



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