Colour me surprised. I had no idea, dear readers, that after viewing a screening of the 2017 remake of an “anime classic” starring Scarlett Johansson that I would be sitting here typing about how much I enjoyed it. Not only that but the plot thickens even more: more than enjoyed it! I would say that I had a terrific time with it! Even then, I would add that it was a wicked high-octane thrill ride that had dramatic moments that really connected, acting that hit the mark and a compelling story that hooked me in from start to finish. Let’s also get one other thing out of the way as well. The whole “whitewashing” argument is garbage and if you see the film, you will quickly learn that the casting makes a whole lot more sense than you would maybe be led to believe from all the Social Justice Warriors pounding on their keyboards.
The film is based on an anime story (which I have not seen nor do I have any knowledge of so if I mess something up, bear with me) and tells the tale of a woman known as the Major (Scarlett Johansson). Everything about her is robotic except for her human brain, which she is told was saved after she was involved in a terrible tragedy at sea. This is also a world where most people are at least partly robotic whether it is an organ or an appendage for example. Some have held out and remain human but the number of “pure” humans is shrinking more and more everyday. Anyway, the Major is tasked to track down a terrorist named Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is launching some sort of attack at the robotics company that she and several others work for to protect. Meanwhile, she has also been receiving strange “glitches” and visions that interrupt her daily life.
So… yeah. This film has been getting mixed reviews to say the least but this was honestly my first (and will probably end up the biggest) surprise of the year. It’s quite good! It’s hard to nail down exactly what makes it so damn good but one of the first big reasons is the look of the film. The scenes are dripping in colour, detail and CGI but it all fits together so seamlessly. There are always a million moving parts in the background and it never distracts from the film’s core subject matter. Even after an incredible opening scene in which we are thrust into the Major’s world and take a look at her creation, the effects only enhance the moment and create this wonderfully unique world we enter in for the duration of the film.
The acting is a solid part of the film as well. Scarlett Johansson soars as the lead and is perfectly cast in this role. She has the right amount of emotion while also dialing it back in order to make this blend of human and synthetic all the more believable. During some of the later scenes in which we see her come to a few realizations, she truly lets her acting muscles flex even more. As for the rest of the cast, they are mostly fine but no one measures up to Johansson’s performance. Juliette Binoche is a revelation as the Major’s “creator” and shares some of the more emotionally-charged scenes with Johansson. Binoche is a great actress and can take a role like this with a motherly characteristic and make it feel so natural. Takeshi Kitano, who is apparently a fairly big star in Japan, has a lot of nuance and poise as the chief and the man running an anti-terrorist bureau that contains the Major and other similarly-synthetic operatives. Peter Ferdinando is appropriately conniving and evil as Cutter and Michael Pitt provides a very unique performance as Kuze. He takes the role and makes it a far more complex idea than just a carbon-copy terrorist villain.
The film also gave off shades of other sci-fi epics like Blade Runner and even a little bit of The Terminator. As far as the former film, there is a constant struggle and ethical dilemma brought up several times: at what point is someone no longer a human? Do we merely require consciousness to exist? Much like that film, this movie also explores the idea of government control and is kind of a cautious warning of how too much government control can lead to chaos. The Terminator was echoed in a scene fairly late into the film so I don’t want to completely give it away but a robotic contraption just reminded me of some of that film’s futuristic sequences for some reason. The movie isn’t just about the themes, the acting or the wondrous backdrops though. It also has some impressive dizzying action sequences and ones that never feel too fabricated (although they do overplay the slow-motion a bit too much at times). The use of lighting and fight choreography go hand-in-hand and create a unique look to the film’s action scenes.
All in all, definitely check this one out. I had low expectations, if any, and it ended up far surpassing them, turning out to be a terrific sci-fi film.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)