Ghost in the Shell live-action movie: What the critics think


Ian Wolf


Reviews for the long-awaited live-action Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell are in, and the reaction is mixed.

Most critics agree that the film directed by Rupert Sanders looks great, and that while Scarlett Johansson is a controversial choice to play Major Motoko Kusanagi she handles the part well. However, there are also a few who say the film itself lacks substance. Many critics have complained that the film has “too much Shell, not enough Ghost”. The majority of reviews appear to have given the film three stars out of five.

Below is a selection of some of the comments from the UK press about the movie.


The Telegraph: Purists may not want to hear it, but she’s [Johansson] ideal at the conceptual side of the role. The unusual disconnect between Johansson’s intelligence and her coolly dispassionate looks has been exploited before, most brilliantly in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Here she is both ghost and shell – a pair of soulful eyes, welling with memory and confusion, stranded inside a gorgeously supple action figure. – Tom Robey (4 stars)

iNews: Sanders’ live-action version is remarkably faithful to Oshii’s animated classic, to the point where several shots are lifted directly from the original. Plot-wise, there have been a few compromises, like over-explaining what the title means and adding an emotional backstory. But this is otherwise a largely respectful remake that does full justice to the source material. – Matthew Turner (4 stars)

The List: This is fantastic sci-fi for the 21st century: smart, exciting and absolutely stunning (with cityscapes and images that put one in mind of Blade Runner and, now an influencer itself, The Matrix) and featuring strong set-pieces. – Angie Errigo (4 stars)

The Guardian: 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. – Peter Bradshaw (3 stars)

Metro: While visually staggering and better than cynical anime fans are perhaps expecting, it’s a streamlined, lesser version which struggles to go beyond its already deep-rooted cult appeal. If you like flashy sci-fi films with a few GCSEs, you’ll find something to enjoy, but this is neither the success or disaster anyone perhaps wanted it to be. – Adam Starkey (3 stars)

NME: Whatever your take on the whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell is no masterpiece. It’s another entertaining but slightly frustrating origin story with one eye on creating a franchise. There’s substance here, but it doesn’t match the film’s glorious style. – Nick Levine (3 stars)

The Independent: The movie is as much of a hybrid as its lead character. It combines high-minded postmodern philosophising with very generic, often very banal, thriller elements. – Geoffrey MacNab (3 stars)

Empire: So heavily derivative it doesn’t feel like anything new, and there’s little depth beneath that slick surface. But it’s solid and attractive, at least, with a retro appeal to its cyberpunk stylings. – Dan Jolin (3 stars)

Radio Times: A clunky finale that echoes an episode of Robot Wars (with a piece of hardware that could have been made by A-level students) reveals where Sanders has veered off track. Its bluntness at times means Ghost in the Shell probably won’t go down as a classic, but it does keep the cogs turning and if the ticket sales warrant it, there’s ample scope for a sequel to flesh out this fast and furious fembot. – Stella Papamichael (3 stars)

Den of Geek: Fans of the original manga and anime, who expect something as thought-provoking as the original, may be disappointed that the movie spends more time on gun-fu, chases and lingering shots of buildings than on fully exploring the ideas it raises. As a live-action, glossy evocation of the original Ghost In The Shell, however, Sanders’ film is well worth seeing on the big screen. – Ryan Lambie (3 stars)

Digital Spy: Utterly, unquestionably gorgeous to look at, but at heart a fairly bog-standard futuristic action movie, GITS is all Shell with barely a Ghost of anything inside. – Ross Fletcher (3 stars)

Financial Times: The main plot questions — “Can a cyborg have human feelings?” and “Might this one, named Mira, have human memories too?” — are sci-fi riddles that have become riddled with age and cinematic overuse. Worse: Scarlett Johansson herself has done this alien-being stuff so often (Her, Lucy, Under the Skin) that her casting seems criminally lazy. – Nigel Andrew (3 stars)

Daily Mirror: Beneath the glossy exterior there’s not much spirit to be found in this curate’s egg of a sci-fi action thriller. A hard working Scarlett Johansson stands at the centre of the spectacular visuals, but even the Avengers star can’t bring the soulless storytelling to boil. – Chris Hunneysett (2 stars)

FACT Mag: The best thing you can say about Ghost in the Shell 2017 – beyond crafting nostalgia for Oshii’s original film – is that it has inspired many to speak out about Hollywood’s diversity problem. If the prospective audience stays home and Paramount Pictures learns from this experience, there will be more than a basis for the Majors and Motoko Kusanagis of the future to be played by Asian actresses – regardless as to what Oshii may think. – Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (no rating given)

The Spectator: Ghost in the Shell is the Hollywood live-action remake of the 1995 Japanese anime of the same name and it’s set at a time in the future when, it would appear, the world is populated by blandly one-dimensional characters. Evil is perpetrated by our old friend, Corporate Evil Man — yes, still — and everyone communicates via dialogue so stilted and ham-fisted it makes you die inside a little. That said, at the media screening I attended we were all given a free bag of high-end crisps, so it wasn’t two hours totally wasted. (I do really like crisps, high-end or otherwise.) – Deborah Ross (no rating given)

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Comic Book Guy
Not that I begrudge anyone sharing this stuff, but I've really come to the conclusion that a lot of these reviews are written by people who are more concerned with sounding clever than writing an actual review. Speaking a someone who thinks it's important to pass credible critique, some of the more negative reviews seem to be built on a foundation of ill-reasoned arguments, poor research into the source material and outright wailing that 'boo-hoo-hoo, this isn't exactly like the movies and TV show it's riffing on.' The fact that media outlets who SHOULD know better are still crying about the non-issue of Scarlett Johannsson being cast in the lead role is actually pretty galling to me.

A few of my pals - including folks who ordinarily have no interest in anime or weren't previously aware of Ghost in the Shell - have seen this movie already and came away impressed. The most disparaging remark I've heard so far was 'it was above average, I guess.'

Comments so far, off the top of my head, have included:

"It's just what you'd expect a Hollyood version of GITS to be like, except, it feels like they really tried with it."

"If they made another one, I'd definitely watch it."

"Brilliant stuff! I heard it was like the Matrix, but it's WAY better."

And this one's the one that got my interest:
"It actually feels like there's a point to doing this one as a big budget movie."

I'm also pretty pleased to hear, from one of my comic pals, that they went in primed and ready to hate the film (they got dragged to it by their partner) but came out of it thinking how cool the premise was. This guy also mentioned that he was impressed with the way the film felt self contained, and NOT like an attempt to set up a franchise (so take that NME review with a pinch of salt!) And let's face it, that would be a pretty stupid risk for Dreamworks to take with a film that's already kind of challenging.

There's stuff that's come out in the reviews I'm not thrilled about. They should NOT have changed the lead character's name, as that's a completely unnecessary step. But, I guess we'll see.

I'm off to see it maybe tomorrow night. Or if not then, definitely on Sunday. Might post an audio-only review on Youtube if anyone's interested.
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Having seen the film yesterday (and posted thoughts in the general movie thread), I'd say the review that was most on the mark is the one from Den of Geek, although I'm keen to see what Mark Kermode has to say on the subject.

There's stuff that's come out in the reviews I'm not thrilled about. They should NOT have changed the lead character's name, as that's a completely unnecessary step. But, I guess we'll see.
Without wishing to give anything away, the film does address this, although you'll probably guess the manner in which it does long before it gets there.


Comic Book Guy
Without wishing to give anything away, the film does address this, although you'll probably guess the manner in which it does long before it gets there.
That's good to know. Honestly, if it's a detail that lends itself toward the film being more its own entity than a retread of prior GITS material, I may just find myself looking at it in a kinder light.

Meanwhile, I'm still hearing positives about the film from online acquaintances. Although some more mixed reactions are starting to filter through. Gotta say, though, the negative stuff I'm hearing from folks mostly parrots the 'why isn't the leading role played by a Japanese actress?' shtick that I'm already sick of hearing. Like I say: NON ISSUE.

Gotta say, I'm still feeling pretty optimistic.
Sounds like reviews are mixed. From what I heard it focuses more on why the major is a Cyborg something that wasn't really a big issue in the original. Not really what the original was about but hey its Hollywood.


Comic Book Guy
Sounds like reviews are mixed. From what I heard it focuses more on why the major is a Cyborg something that wasn't really a big issue in the original. Not really what the original was about but hey its Hollywood.
I had a really interesting discussion with some peeps on Facebook about this very point.

While I have to admit, seeing early indications that the movie was taking this approach made me go 'uh-oh' and isn;t something I'm enthusiastic about, it does show some commitment to forging its own path. Even though it's an angle I'm dubious about, I can get along with it if it's offered as an alternative to a shot for shot re-tread or a load of stuff I've seen before, just rendered in live action.


Comic Book Guy
Just got back from seeing it.

I've had a few requests to do a review over on Youtube, so I'll see about getting that sorted tomorrow. But, here's the short version:

I found it perfectly enjoyable. Albeit with a few heavy caveats in place. The long-time fanboy in me dislikes the approach that was taken, and there's a twist in the end that is properly 'Hollywood dumb.' Won't say too much, but sadly it's the kind of idiotic miss-step that's going to embolden some of the more intractable idiots raging about the casting. Sorry, but if you've fully read and understood the original manga and still feel impelled to go crying about whitewashing after seeing this movie, you're barking up a forest full of wrong trees. (A note to the PC brigade: pick your battles and don't be a confrontational numpty. You might find that folks are more inclined to listen to your points when they're actually valid and politely couched.)

Other than that, I found a lot to admire. It's a lightweight version of GITS, but we always knew it would be. There are more than a few things jammed into this film that really don't need to be there. But I get why most of them been included. And as much as I don't like the fact that the movie makes The Major feel weak and devotes itself to telling her back story, I'm actually cool with it because it enables the film to have its own identity. It still feels enough like GITS to get by.

No better or worse than your average Hollywood summer movie, I'd say. Which might be an indictment on Hollywood story values. But, whatever - I was entertained, and I'd watch it again. I was also pleased to see a good number of folks in the cinema - a fair number of whom seemed to really enjoy it.
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Ian Wolf

AUKN Staff
GITS has performed poorly in box office ratings. It may have taken $19 million in its first weekend, but the film's budget in comparison was $110 million. Also in comparison, another Scarlet Johansson sci-fi movie, Lucy, got $43.8 million with a $40 million budget in its first weekend; the Power Rangers movie got $40 million last weekend and has nearly broken even; and The Boss Baby got $49 million.

Source: The Independent


Karamatsu Boy
It's certainly had a lot of advertising around where I live, at least as much as Power Rangers and way more than The Boss Baby. But even though I've never watched an episode of Power Rangers in my life it would be my first choice of the two. Can't resist brightly coloured suits and explosions.

(There is no cinema where I live at all so I'm not sure why they bother advertising these things.)



Comic Book Guy
It's a shame if GitS is doing badly in financial terms - despite its problems, I think it deserves better than to go down as an expensive flop.
Yeah - I'll second that. It may not be everything that fans would have hoped, but it doesn't deserve to flounder like that. I'm hearing reports that its looking at a $25 mil opening weekend. That's terrible. Here's hoping it can recoup a bit of cash through home video sales.

Incidentally, my video review is up on Youtube. I'm a little aghast at just how rude and unpleasant people are capable of being about the ******** whitewashing claims - had to ban two users today already.


Dandy Guy, in Space
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Granted I was disappointed with the opening 45 minutes, but after that it improves greatly. I struggle to see where the budget went though. The VFX were largely low quality and fuzzy, so I can only assume it's down to the sheer amount of VFX shots, location and inefficiencies. It will be a real shame if it ends up as a flop as it largely does very well as being faithful while also doing what it needs to resonate with a mainstream audience.

My only lingering issue is one that has roots in it being a 12/pg13. The action just wasn't visceral enough. The guns felt like they were all done in post (like John Wick) which left the action feeling tame until the final scenes where there was some redemption. It needed less John Wick and more Bourne Identity/The Raid.


Comic Book Guy
I was too knackered to share it last night, and I'm damned if I'm going to trawl through Facebook to find them, but I spotted a few reports that Ghost in the Shell has doubled its income in overseas ticket sales to make a round $40 mil. And this is ahead of release in China and Japan. So it appears there may be some wiggle room before the movie is written off as a complete bomb.

Might be interesting to see how this tracks over the next few weeks and whether the DVD / Blu Ray / digital download sales actually help it to break even. I'm also seeing a fair number of folks on social media saying 'haven't seen it yet, going next week' or asking folks if they can recommend it. Not sure if that will equate to better box office performance in any meaningful way.

EDIT: Ah! I see the news is being reported on ANN. Here be the linky:

Also, looking closer to $60 mil internationally at this point.
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