For a film that was based on such a popular and iconic anime, the 2017 western remake of Ghost in the Shell has had a less than stellar response, from both critics and general audiences. Despite having some incredible source material to work from and the modern CGI technology to give the sci fi story the visual style it deserves, the movie reviews have been, for the most part, “mixed or average”. Though this could be for a number of reasons – and, indeed, various critics have voiced different opinions about what they found lacking in the new film – domestic distribution chief for Paramount, Kyle Davies, thinks that he knows the main one.
In an interview with CBC, he spoke candidly about why he thinks the movie performed so badly at the box office:
“We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.”
It’s certainly not a far reach to suspect that the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major – whose full name is not mentioned in the remake, but was in the original Motoko Kusanagi – contributed to the film’s problems.
It is no secret that Hollywood has a huge issue with whitewashing that Ghost in the Shell did nothing to improve. By casting a white American as the originally Japanese protagonist, the film fell into the same traps as such cringe-inducing films as Prince of Persia starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian and Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale as an Egyptian.
Davies’s mention of the mainstream audience is very similar to the usual excuse filmmakers offer in this situation: A big name actor in the main role draws in large mainstream audiences. There may well be plenty of “fanboys” who want authenticity and diversity, but there will be much larger crowds of new audiences who will come for Scarlett Johansson nine times out of ten over an ethnically accurate actor they haven’t heard of.
But this trend – and excuse – is proving increasingly unpopular among modern audiences, who expect a realistically diverse population in the media, even if they’re not “fanboys”.
Hollywood is simply not meeting those expectations.
While this certainly would have contributed to the film’s limp reputation, it is important that the creators of the film also take into account and learn from other criticisms, as many reviewers have cited other reasons for their negative response to this film.
For instance, some felt that the remake did not engage as thoroughly as it should have done with the philosophical layers of the original, which was a famously complex piece of cinematography and storytelling. Some said that it seemed that the new version prioritised action and CGI and gun fights over that complexity and, in doing so, perhaps even loses touch with those aspects of the story that made it so compelling in the first place.