Ghost in the Shell (2017) (Quick Review) - Domo Arigato, Mr Roboto

Ever since the Seventies, the science fiction genre has been a cesspit of human misery and corporate excess. I don't know what the 1970's were like to live in, but clearly they were shit: they corrupted fiction's most optimistic genre. Back in its Golden Age, sci-fi was akin to the supremely-naive character who gets killed off in the first act of a horror film. Nowadays, however, it's rather dated to picture sci-fi as anything other than nightmarish and dystopian.

Which leads me to the latest misery-guts sci-fi release: the live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow's legendary 1989 manga, Ghost in the Shell. A film which I've been eagerly waiting for since the rumours began back in 2008. Since my last few trips to the cinema ended in disappointment, I finally decided it was high time to see the film I wanted to watch all along. Disappoint me once, shame on you; disappoint me twice, shame on me; disappoint me thrice, well I'm just a kinky bastard who gets off on punishment then aren't I?

Ghost in the Shell is a cyberpunk franchise which combines weighty themes like transhumanism, individualism vs corporatism, and the impact of technology on society, with stylised ass-kicking. It has its roots in properties like Blade RunnerNeuromancer, and even shades of Karel Capek's 1920 play R.U.R. Though the 1989 manga started it all, it's the 1995 anime film version which popularised the series. I discovered the anime as part of one of those fortnightly magazines that came with a DVD, sold by enterprising newsagents more than willing to provide young teens with a steady supply of cartoon tits and ultraviolence.

It is said anime version that Ghost in the Shell (2017) is largely based upon.

In the not-so-distant future mankind has begun augmenting itself cybernetics - implants which are able to improve almost every aspect of the body - at the ultimate cost of 'dehumanisation'. As with most cyberpunk, augmentation here is treated as this big moral dilemma. Though I'm not sure why: cybernetics worked out pretty fucking well for Inspector Gadget. 

But this is a bleak world run by corporations - with the sort of ad-filled skyline that resembles early 2000's mobile web browsers - and plagued by cyberterrorism and poverty. Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) is a victim of these terrorists, her body destroyed in an attack that also killed her parents. Mega corporation Hanka Robotics, seeing this as the perfect opportunity to test their secret project, orders Mira's brain (her 'ghost') to be placed into a mechanical 'shell' - creating a...Ghost in a Shell. Christ.

A year later and Mira, now known as 'Major', is part of an elite crime fighting organisation called Section 9; hot on the trail of a scientist-killing terrorist known as Kuze. She's Robocop, if you will.

What follows is a tightly wound corporate conspiracy thriller of secret experiments and extremists waging guerrilla warfare. The kind of exciting hacker-cowboy future writers like William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Bruce Sterling waxed lyrical about, but which is represented in real life by thirteen-year-old virgins carrying out DoS attacks on Xbox Live.

The story even becomes somewhat psychological once the concepts of hacking augmented individuals and false memories are introduced. Not being able to trust your own memories is the sort of terrifying cognitive dissonance made more prescient by our post-truth world. Kuze (Michael Pitt) forms a sympathetic villain when you realise he's just a Frankenstein's Monster: his persona/memories are artificial creations, and (in a more literal sense) his patchwork cyborg body is truly monstrous.

Ghost in the Shell's views on the possible 'high tech, low life' future certainly feel more prescient than Gibson's stories about ninja-cyborg girls he wishes he could bang.

It's a particularly reverent adaptation. Not a carbon copy, but a film with cinematography which faithfully recreates the look, feel, and tone of the source material. As with all good cyberpunk, the setting is paramount. Here, we have a chaotic pan-Asian city where the old is blended with the new. A sweeping neon-soaked cityscape - wonderfully realised and evoking the iconic Blade Runner - contrasted with disgustingly crowded slums that are like a cross between an ant farm and a goth nightclub.

Some of the film's key scenes are directly lifted from the anime, though. I will admit seeing my favourite moments from the 1995 film, recreated in live-action, made me squee like a nun riding a knobbly bicycle down a cobblestone road. Especially spectacular was the famous scene where a cloaked (invisible) Major takes down a would-be assassin in a one sided hand-to-hand fight: think of it as being similar to the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton starts hitting himself.

Overall, Ghost in the Shell is a solid action/sci-fi flick that deals with heavy weight themes in a easily digestible way. Whilst the original was more broadly philosophical, this film takes a more individual approach. Though (and I've added this post-review) just because you're an Otaku doesn't mean the Japanese original was more complex. This franchise has always been less complex than it thinks, like the girl in the creative writing class with father issues.

Johansson is perfectly cast, playing an emotionally stunted hard-ass who can throw a punch or two, but mostly gets beaten down. It's as though she treats this as a second stab at Lucy, a movie that would have been good if you weren't (as the movie supposes) using 90% of your brain. No one who isn't Scarlett Johansson or Michael Pitt gets much to do (as Dr. Ouelet, Juliette Binoche is mostly Mrs. Exposition), so it's fortunate that they're both good.

Though Takeshi Kitano - America's go-to elderly Japanese actor now Mr. Miyagi is dead - does get an ace turn in as the trench coat wearing, hand cannon wielding Section 9 leader - Daisuke Aramaki.

One final thought: the whole 'whitewashing' debacle that dogged this production is neatly side-stepped. For what does race matter in a world where technology can not only place a consciousness into a different body, but also create false memories and identities? Moreover, Mira was an actual Japanese girl before Hanka Robotics screwed her over. It should be noted that this was an issue which only ever mattered to racists. Because that's what these moral outrage people are: they just happen to be the trendy type of racist. Call them the 'wishy-whitewashy' brigade.

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Power Rangers (Quick Review) - Go Go Nostalgia Raiders

Nostalgia has a lot to answer for. It ruins your Twenties for a start; as you seek to escape your shitty post-university life by delving into the past. And it was nostalgia that aided Donald Trump, who would oft bring out his promise to 'make America great again' - optional sarcastic emphasis on the 'again'. Now, nostalgia is responsible for the creation of this fucking travesty of a film.

In short: thanks to nostalgia, Power Rangers (2017) has raped more childhoods than the Catholic Church.

Not that Power Rangers was ever a particularly good franchise. Alongside Transformers, Street Sharks, Mighty Max, and Pok√©mon, it existed entirely to sell merchandise to kids: the sort of dastardly whimsical capitalism Willy Wonka would come up with. My reaction, therefore, comes not from some misguided fanboy loyalty, but how genuinely awful the film is.

Power Rangers (2017) is a reboot of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, which ran from 1993-1996 and was itself a remake of Japanese series Super Sentai. Structured like an extended episode the movie may be, it nonetheless focuses on all the wrong parts. Which means the ultra-camp Nineties aesthetic is lost in translation, replaced by grit and Beverly Hills, 90210 style drama.

Star quarterback, Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), throws his promising career away for a stupid prank and is forced to attend The Breakfast Club. There he encounters former cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), autistic nerd Billy (RJ Cyler), and, through series of incredibly contrived situations involving dynamite, label-hating Trini (Becky G) and boring Asian guy Zack (Ludi Lin). I'm glad to see Jason's obeying Tumblr's diversity laws.

As far as franchise set-ups go, this one is certainly up and down - like my voice during puberty. I understand the premise is about contrasting existential threats to humanity with teenage issues (such as to trying to grow a beard that doesn't resemble bum fluff). But instead of creating a balance between the two, a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this film doubles down on the teenage angst. One scene, for example, has Trini explain her hatred for labels and strict norms. In an aggressively mainstream Hollywood film, no less.

L-R: Billy (Blue), Kim (Pink), Zack (Black), Trini (Yellow,) and Jason (Red) 

It left me wondering who this movie is for. Not the (now) grown-up fans of the original, that's for sure. I also doubt the sprogs enjoying the current series - which probably has some adjective word soup name - want to watch a film that's 80 % High School Delusional either. A teenage soap where the word 'Morphin' is used often enough for it to sound like an euphemism for wanking.

When I think of Power Rangers I picture 20 somethings dressed in spandex, pretending to be teenagers; there're blazing guitars in the background, fights like those from knock-off 70's Kung Fu movies; Kaiju and Mecha battles, and villains with incomprehensible plots. In many ways, the Power Rangers franchise was a baby version of the superhero genre - popular long before comic book films really took off.

Not that the film is without its moments. The final battle, which sees the Rangers come up against Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and the 100ft monstrosity Goldar, captures is brash in a way this film needed to be all along. My favourite moment was seeing the team launch out of Zordon's base in their Zords while the iconic theme song rang out. And there's the Mega-Zord defeating Goldar with a suplex and slapping Rita into space, which definitely shows the movie possesses a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness.

Moments such as those are rare, however. The real focus is spent emphasising the Power Rangers as people, and positioning the movie as a 21st Century coming of age tale. Only I simply don't care. I don't care that Kimberly shared a photo of her friend's stonking tits round the school. I also don't care about Billy and his autism: the guy's like a cross between Sheldon Cooper and the Crows from Dumbo. There's a scene where Zordon (a wasted Bryan Cranston) admits he's using the Rangers so he can stop being the wailing wall and get in on the action. I was fucking rooting for the guy. Sadly, this never comes to fruition.

Honestly, it's Elizabeth Banks I pity the most. She does an admirable job with what little she's given and even tries to go full ham. But she's relegated to popping up now and then to do the odd villainous thing here and there - sort of a handywoman of evil. Better than the usual crap treatment female villains get, but I still want to see a female antagonist as unabashedly awful as Lt.Col."You may scream, there is no shame" Podovsky from Rambo: First Blood Part II.

There was a rather colourful poster for the movie which demonstrated the Rangers and their Zords in action, and it seems clear that the filmmakers intended to rake in the nostalgia dosh through bait-and-switch marketing. It suggests this movie is as colourful and brash as the original series, when it's closer in tone to Michael Bay's Transformers reboot. There are scant references to the series, but in terms of tone it's a wholly different beast. The producers overdid it and overdid it, until they pulled an Emperor Diocletian and divided the Roman empire into halves and quarters.

All in all, Power Rangers stinks. Power Rangers? More like Shower Strangers.

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