Tag Archives: action

Branded to Kill – Review

11 Jun

There are many film makers that create movies that leave me baffled. David Lynch and his fever dreams like Eraserhead and Inland Empire stand out, but who can forget the psychedelic nightmares of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his films like The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre? A name that never really stood out to me was Seijun Suzuki, a Japanese film makers that was actually blacklisted from directing because of the odd and unmarketable nature of his movies. One of, if not his most infamous creations is the 1967 gangster film Branded to Kill. This is a movie that takes genre conventions and blows them out of the water. Is this film just one giant narrative mess or is it a satirical, yet experimental, look at the gangster subgenre? That’s for the viewer to decide.

Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) has the honor of being the third ranked hit man in the Japanese underworld. He also has found a strange, and often unsettling, kind of love in his newly wedded wife, Mami (Mariko Ogawa). Hanada is assigned many important missions by the yakuza, including the killing of three seemingly unrelated civilians. He is also approached by a mysterious woman with a death wish named Misako (Annu Mari), who hires Hanada to kill a foreigner that she will be seen with the following day. When this new mission goes wrong, Hanada is soon on the run and betrayed by almost everyone he knows, with the only possible exception of Misako. Things only get worse for Hanada when he finds out the mythic hitman, known only as Number One (Koji Nanbara) is gunning for him and will stop at nothing until he is dead.

Take that summary with a grain of salt since Branded to Kill was not the easiest movie to follow, and it took me a little while after finishing it to fully process what I saw. At it’s core, this movie tells a classic gangster noir tale about murder, love, femme fatales, and betrayal. What makes Suzuki’s film so odd is the way this simple story is told. There are jumps in time and location that is incredibly jarring and takes a while to get used to. This movie is only an hour and a half long, but it felt so much longer than that because time and space was played with so much. The story could take place over the span of a week or a couple of months. Telling a totally linear story was clearly not Suzuki’s intention. While I do very much appreciate the strangeness, the odd continuity, and all of the confusion that goes along with it, I’m not sure how this really fits with telling the story. What I mean is that I can’t really thematically see any reasoning for telling the story like this. The third act gets really out of whack, which is appropriate for the action, but I’m not sure about the other two acts.

Despite Branded to Kill being totally strange, it still has a classic noir vibe which I really like. The lighting is harsh and the violence is sudden, but definitely leaves an impression. Another great example of noir that pushes the boundaries is another Japanese film called Pale Flower, which I reviewed quite some time ago. Branded to Kill takes it to another level, however, and some of it genuinely shocked me. This film came out in 1967, which is still some years before exploitation cinema hit audiences internationally. This film almost pushes things to that exploitive level. Like it comes real close. There are things in this movie that would have made mainstream audiences in America at this time lose their minds. Hell, there’s some things that would make modern American audiences gasp. I have to give Suzuki credit for daring to go the extra mile.

This brashness and willingness to go places traditional films of the time went didn’t come without a price. This is one of those movies where the history kind of provides a good context as to how to look at an appreciate the film itself. Seijun Suzuki made 40 B-movies for the Nikkatsu Company. That’s a lot of time dedicated to working for a company, but it didn’t last forever. Nikkatsu was not pleased with the original script for Branded to Kill, so they had Suzuki rework it. Instead of keeping it the traditional gangster tale, he made it something completely different, which is the movie I’ve done my best to illustrate as a crazy, untraditional ride. Nikkatsu was even more upset with the end result, and this got Suzuki fired. Jokes on Nikkatsu. Over time, Branded to Kill has become something of a cult classic.

Branded to Kill is certainly not for everyone, and it even took me a little bit of time to fully wrap my head around what I just saw. It takes a gangster story with hints of noir and turns it into a dreamscape where time and logic are unimportant. Sometimes I felt like this worked against the film, but most of the time I was really into the weirdness. I have to give Seijun Suzuki credit for making a movie that no one else at the time seemed interested in making, even if it end with him getting fired from Nikkatsu. For any fan of off the wall kind of movies, I’d recommend Branded to Kill. Anyone looking for something easier to comprehend, you can find plenty of other great gangster stories out there.

Final Grade: B

Wonder Woman – Review

5 Jun

The DC Extended Universe has had a bit of a hard time. Man of Steel was a cool movie, even though it suffered from some terrible pacing. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a complete catastrophe after having sat through it more than once. Finally, Suicide Squad was, to me, fine but only as an action movie where you could switch off and just watch it without the use of any brain cells. Now we have Patty Jenkins’ newest edition to the franchise, Wonder Woman. For a while I had high hopes for this movie, but in the back of my mind I was really worried it was going to be another bomb for DC. I really had no reason to be worried. I know that now, because Wonder Woman knocked it out of the park as both a superhero film, and just as a well made movie in and of itself.

After the events of Batman v. Superman, Diana Prince, also known as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), is working in France at the Louvre. She receives a package from Bruce Wayne one day which shows her with a group of soldiers during World War I. Flashback to the Themyscira, the hidden island of Amazon warriors where Diana was born and raised by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and trained to fight by her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright). Things change for Diana when an Alllied pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes within the borders of the island, bringing with him German soldiers that were in close pursuit of his plane. After a battle, Diana decides she must go with Steve to find and stop Ares, the God of War and enemy of the Amazons, who is responsible for the Great War and its continuation. Soon Diane and Steve are off and embattled in the trenches of World War I, where Diana shows who she really is, the Amazonian warrior now known as Wonder Woman.

I’m so pleased that the DCEU finally has a movie that really feels like it’s deeper than the most shallow aspects of its story telling. Wonder Woman is a movie filled with three dimensional characters, clear motivations, conflict, and actual themes that branch out from the singular idea of war. The character of Diana is wonderfully realized. We see her grow up on Themyscira, so by the time she’s an adult, we know who she is and what drives her. The same can be said about Steve Trevor. His explanations to Diana about the world and the brutal war that plagues it shows what his true intentions are. Gal Gadot is excellent as Wonder Woman and brings both a sense of naïvety and strength. This is Diana’s first taste of the outside world, and it’s interesting to see her character in this as opposed to who she was in Batman v. Superman. Chris Pine is also really good as Steve Trevor, and supplies a lot of laughs and a lot of character.

So, with the movie taking place during World War I, it would have been easy to make this a very somber and dark movie. That hasn’t stopped the DCEU film makers before, since they seem to want to make all these movies darker than they really need to be. Wonder Woman doesn’t take that route, which was a nice surprise. There’s plenty of drama in the film both on Themyscira and during the war in Europe, but it never gets too bogged down in melodrama. It’s all very appropriately placed. There’s also plenty of humor to be had as well, and it’s pretty good humor for the most part. The main complaint I do have for this movie is that it does seem to try to hard to have more moments than necessary of humor. Some jokes are stretched too long or could have been completely cut altogether. Many of the jokes do hit, but when the whole movie takes a break just to turn into a comedy routine, I kind of switched off. Luckily, there’s only a few instances of this, which is not nearly enough to be stressed too much.

With this being a superhero movie, the action better be good. That’s one thing I think the DCEU has had going for it. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I think the action in all three of the franchise’s movies leading up to this one had good action. Wonder Woman also has great action set pieces that are combined with some really over the top special effects, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some of the CGI is noticeably CGI, but it creates an almost otherworldy visual flair which works for some of the most over the top action sequences. Slow motion and tricky camera work is also utilized to show just how powerful Wonder Woman is, and it’s a blast to watch. All I’ve seen by Patty Jenkins before this is Monster, so I had no idea she could create action scenes this well. They really are a treat to watch.

Wonder Woman is exactly what I wanted it to be and more. This was a swashbuckling, heartfelt super hero movie with brains, brawn, and wonderfully realized characters that are believable, even in a movie about Wonder Woman. The DCEU better look at this movie and see that this is how their movies need to be made. Superhero films just can’t rely on crazy action and recognizable names and faces. They need way more than that, and Wonder Woman delivers. In a world where Hollywood is oversaturated with superhero film, Wonder Woman is a reminder of just how well these movies can be done.

Final Grade: A-

Alien: Covenant – Review

28 May

Since 1979, the Alien series has been consistently revisited. The original film is a classic, and the same can be said about James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens, which is my personal favorite in the series. David Fincher’s Alien 3 is a major disappointment, and an all around ugly film, while Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is an off kilter, almost comic book adaptation. It’s an odd one but I like it. Ridley Scott returned to the series with his 2012 prequel Prometheus, which opened up a lot of new doors for the series and left many people scratching their heads and asking questions. Well, it’s time for those questions to be answered because we have a new movie in the series, and I was really hyped up for it. Alien: Covenant is a rollicking, violent, and disturbing summer blockbuster that filled me with plenty of emotions and made my gag reflexes work some overtime. This is a welcome addition to the series.

In 2104, the colonization ship Covenant is en route to the planet Origae-6, which will become a new home to humanity. After a disaster hits the ship, Walter (Michael Fassbender), the android watching the ship, wakes the rest of the crew from stasis. With the ship’s captain dead, the next in command is the faith based Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup). After receiving a signal from a nearby planet that looks habitable, the crew decides to check it out, much to the protests of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the terraforming expert onboard the Covenant. On the planet, members of the crew are soon infected by spores which then produce creatures that erupt out of the bodies of the crew. They soon meet David (Fassbender again), who survived the Prometheus mission and is hiding out in a temple that holds more secrets than the Covenant team was expecting. Soon it’s the aliens against the humans, and David’s true motivations make survival all the more difficult.

When watching an Alien movie, I expect a certain kind of standard, and some of the movies in the series do not meet the criteria. This one certainly does despite some obvious flaws in character and storytelling. Let’s get some of the negatives out of the way first. For one thing, there’s a certain character that is completely wasted, and it isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this happen in this series. Sure, there’s a moment of shock when this character’s fate is revealed, but it kind of left me wishing I could have seen more of them. There’s also a lot of exposition that crowds the middle of the movie, but a lot of this exposition is dishonest, which leads to more exposition, which then leads to confusion. Any fan of Prometheus may have well guessed that this prequel trilogy is not going to be a straightforward one, and the confusion and questions that Covenant raises just adds to that theory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when this all happens in a murky and dark and muddled part of the movie, that’s when there’s a little bit of a problem.

Much like the other films in this franchise, Alien: Covenant has a slow start, but that’s a wise way to tell this story in the grand scheme of things. Tension is built up for a long time, and when that tension is finally released, the screen explodes with terror and gore and just outrageous violence that sometimes made my stomach turn. This is easily the most violent Alien movie, and it shocked me in more ways than one. When an alien first explodes out of a crew members body, my mouth was side open at the shamelessness of it all. Ridley Scott clearly wanted this reaction and he sure got it. It’s so fun to be in a movie theater and hear gasps coming from all around the auditorium. The intensity in this movie is amped up to 11 and a lot of this comes from the incredible production design. The claustrophobia of the ships and the wide open spaces on the planet’s surface makes it very clear that no one is safe in this movie. There is one computerized effect that looked kind of weird, but the rest of the movie looked excellent.

Alien: Covenant takes what happens in Prometheus and builds off of it, so it would be hard to like this movie without liking its predecessor. The world building in Covenant is awesome and motivations for the characters feel very strong and often times tragic. A lot of the success has to do with Fassbender’s performance as both Walter and David. He is the crux of this whole prequel trilogy and he brings more menace to the screen than I was expecting. He is the perfect villain that this series needs and his calmness plays off the chaos of the xenomorphs perfectly. This is one of those movies that made me excited to see what more the series has to offer, and I really can’t wait to see what happens next, but that’s a review for another time.

Alien: Covenant isn’t the best film in the series, but it is the best film since Aliens and it’s just the sequel that Prometheus needed. This film is also not for the squeamish, but long time fans of the Alien series probably expect nothing less. Still, this movie managed to shock and horrify while also building the science fiction universe of androids, aliens, heroes, and the evil Weyland Corporation quite well. Fans of the series will have to check out this one out. If I  had to rank this movie, I’d say it’s my third favorite Alien film.

Final Grade: B+

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Review

15 May

Guy Ritchie is one of my favorite film makers of all time, and more often than not I envy the skill that he has when it comes to crafting an entertaining film. Snatch is quite possibly my favorite movie, but there’s so much else to love in his filmography. His newest film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, is not somewhere that I expected his career to go, but I learned he was making this movie close to a year and a half ago, and I’ve been excited ever since. That puts a lot of pressure on this movie with all that time to build up my expectations, and when I do that, it hurts all the more when they come crashing down. Well, I really can’t say I’m disappointed at all. This movie is no masterpiece, nor is it Ritchie’s crowning achievement. What it is, however, is a classic myth seen through the eyes of Guy Ritchie, which means there’s plenty of action, frenetic camera work and editing, and a tongue in cheek bad attitude that makes for some fun beginning of the summer blockbuster season entertainment.

After defeating the evil warlock Mordred from invading Camelot, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his brother, Vortigen (Jude Law), who starts a rebellion and soon wins the throne. The only Pendragon survivor is a young Arthur who grows up on the streets of Londinium unaware of his true lineage. When Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has grown, the mysterious sword in the stone, Excalibur, is reappears which causes alarm to Vortigen, since whoever removes the sword is the true king. Vortigen soon weeds out Arthur, but Arthur is quickly saved from execution by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Honsou), Goosefat (Aiden Gillen), and a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). Together with these disgraced knights and servants of Uther, Arthur joins the rebellion against Vortigen, but must also learn how to wield the power of Excalibur to even come close to standing a chance against the magically corrupted evil king and his army.

It seems that Guy Ritchie has comfortably taken on the task of being the film maker that takes classic stories and reworks them into modern, brawling stories filled with action and absurd moments of cinematic trickery. He did it with Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and now he’s done it with Arthurian legends. This isn’t the classic King Arthur you’ve come to know through the various stories and movies and television shows. This Arthur is a streetwise brawler with a strong sense of morality, and not so much a regal leader riding into battle with his knights in shining armor. I can’t proclaim to know much about Arthurian legend, but I’m comfortable saying this is a very different retelling. I, personally, love this direction and would love to see more of these legends brought to life by Ritchie.

Part of why I love Ritchie’s work so much is the high energy he always brings to his movies, and that’s where King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is unfortunately lacking. While his other movies show crazy displays of editing and directing in many different ways, this one felt a little bit tamer. The montage of Arthur growing up set the stage very well and the few scenes after that kept the energy going, but as the world building set in, so did the slow down in the energy. The only time it really picked up again, other than a few noteworthy shots, is whenever Arthur successfully wielded Excalibur. Now, when those scenes happen, I was floored. It’s cinematic wizardry that can be explained through computer generated effects, but what’s impressive is Ritchie’s eye for movement and how he choreographed and laid out these scenes. I just wish more of the action could have had the same visual flair as those Excalibur scenes. There also wasn’t the energy in the writing either. There were funny quips and rough and tough attitude, but there weren’t any lines that really stand out as being memorable and a lot of the dialogue was pretty run of the mill.

I never thought I’d say this, but Charlie Hunnam was a perfect choice to play Arthur. I love imagining scenarios where certain things are turned into movies, and who I would cast in it, and I never would have thought of Hunnam for Arthur. Fortunately, I was wrong. Now, I will say I’m not sure how well he’d work in a more classic representation of the character, but for this tough talking Arthur, he was spot on. I also have to give props to Jude Law as Vortigen. He has this way of portraying scumbag villains really well, with a shining example being his role in Road to Perdition. In this film, however, he becomes worse as the movie continues, and while humanity can be seen in him at times, he truly is an evil bastard in this movie, and it’s so much fun to hate his guts. The rest of the cast is good, with Honsou also standing out as Bedivere, but the real memorable performances are by Hunnam and Law.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not a perfect movie, and it’s flaws become very clear as the movie goes on. It has some lackluster dialogue and doesn’t quite match the energy of Ritchie’s other films. That being said, when it does decide to pick up, it nearly explodes off the screen. This take of King Arthur is admittedly different from the classic legends, but the differences make it feel fresh. This may not be a movie that should be analyzed or thought about too heavily, but it is a really great way to spend a couple of hours and stands strong as an entertaining summer blockbuster.

Final Grade: B

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

6 May

In 2014, Marvel took a gamble and released Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured a team of heroes that were way more under the radar than any of the Avengers. Since it’s release, everyone can confidently say who Star Lord or Groot are because the film was so much fun. It made a killing at the box office and stands as one of the MCU’s greatest entries. It was inevitable that a sequel would be made featuring the beloved intergalactic crew, and it was up to James Gunn to once again capture everything we love about the first film and make something new. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as excellent as the first film, this is still a worthy sequel that provides a lot of laughs, action, and heart.

Peter Qull (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are known far and wide as the Guardians of the Galaxy. After helping the Sovereign race to protect important batteries from a space monster, and robbing them soon after, the Guardians find themselves stranded on a planet with Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), as their captive. They are soon met by Ego (Kurt Russel) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Ego informs Quill that he is his father and brings the Guardians back to his planet. As the team learns more, they begin to discover that this planet may not be what it seems, so they have to set aside their differences and team up with Yondu (Michael Rooker) to stop a force that threatens the entire galaxy.

There’s plenty to talk about with this movie because this is kind of an odd entry into the MCU. It has all of the energy that the original film did and it’s excellent to see the characters all together again, but the story in this one if very different than the first one, which is actually kind of a good thing. Let’s start with the negatives. For one thing, the pacing of this movie is really off. Things start off with a bang, but the team soon splits up and the story kind of loses track of itself. There’s what’s happening on Ego’s planet, but than there’s also a story involving Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and some Ravagers who hold a mutiny. Both of these stories seem equally important, so I was unsure where the movie was going. Luckily, the narrative finds itself again after some time and really makes up for some of the odd pacing. Another issue I had with this movie is the fact that it got a little mean spirited. Sure, the original movie had a lot of off color humor, but this one makes some of the characters (mostly Drax and Rocket) just come off as obnoxious and overly rude at times. It was a bit of a departure in tone, and I wasn’t really fond of it. Fortunately, this happens in just a few scenes and isn’t really a big deal for most of the movie.

Despite some weird narrative issues, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decides to let loose, it gets crazy. This movie has some really wild action that made me smile so hard I thought my head would rip in two. The best part of the movie features Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot getting the best of some mutineers. That scene alone was just blockbuster perfection and is the reason why these movies are so beloved by fans. For all of the action and humor, this movie also has a lot of heart to it that gives it the emotional weight these comic book movies really need to be taken seriously. Forget how Captain America: Civil War made you feel. This movie has some real drama that may not leave a dry eye in the theater. It’s one thing to make a major CGI fest that focuses on wowing you with the action and the spectacle, which Guardians does, but it has so much more to it than that.

Speaking of CGI, this movie has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. The ships whizzing through space engaging in over the top dogfights made it hard to blink. There’s so much happening in some of these set pieces, it’s hard to believe that actual humans created these scenes. What’s excellent about this movie, and this is no surprise knowing who James Gunn is, there are some really excellent practical effects and make up as well. The Sovereign race is painted gold, but it looks perfect. The same can be said about Gamora and Yondu’s make up. I spent some of the time just trying to find one flaw with the make up, but there were just none to be found.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as good or exciting as the first film. The first one was honestly just perfect. It was such an epic story it would’ve been hard to beat. Still, this is a really good sequel that captured the heart of the first film and reworks it to create something different. The story feels a bit smaller and disconnected from the rest of the workings of the MCU, but it also feels more personal to the Guardians. Any fan of this universe should have a blast with this movie. I know I sure did.

Final Grade: B+

Free Fire – Review

6 May

Have you ever been so excited for a movie, but knew you had to wait so long to see it that you were convinced it would never be released anywhere around you? Well, that’s how I felt about Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. I saw the trailer for this movie months ago, and was so excited to see the cast and the insanity that the trailer had to offer. It also is worth mentioning that this movie has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. All of the pieces were in place and I’ve finally gotten to see the movie I’ve been so excited for… The disappointment has really set in hard.

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are two IRA members who have travelled to America to buy rifles from a known arms dealer and all around douche bag, Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Along for the ride is Vernon’s associate Ord (Armie Hammer), the intermediary Justine (Brie Larson), and some other hired hands to help with the transaction. This is a pretty volatile bunch to begin with, but once it’s revealed that Vernon has brought the wrong rifles and that there are hidden tensions shared between a few of the hired hands, things start to go south until shots are fired. Now the two groups are split at opposite sides of the abandoned factory they are meeting in with a suitcase full of money and crates of rifles and ammo standing between them. Whoever is left standing wins.

This as an idea sounds perfect. Put a bunch of volatile criminals in a room together with guns and money and see what happens. It’s not something we haven’t heard of before, but it looked like a movie that was going to take the idea and inject it with some high energy and lots of laughs. I’m not really sure what happened. As the movie started, I was into the dialogue and the characters. They were setting up the scene very well and when a new character was introduced, I liked seeing their personality matched with everyone else’s. I had this picture in my mind that this was just going to be a raucous clash that didn’t have time to slow down, but Free Fire is surprisingly boring. There’s a lot of sitting around and yelling insults and when a shot is fired, someone is either just clipped or missed all together. And this goes on and on it seems, until things finally pick up the way I wanted it to in the last act of the movie. If the whole film had the energy of the last act, this review would be going a whole other way.

I do have to give it to all the actors in this movie. All of them give their best to their performances, which is really the strongest point of the movie. The characters are what’s going to be remembered most. Cillian Murphy,Michael Smiley, and Brie Larson work off each other very well and they spend most of the movie together. If their chemistry didn’t work than that would have been a real problem. I also have to give it to Armie Hammer for being surprisingly hilarious as Ord, who just seemed to have an answer for everything. How could I talk about the good performances in Free Fire without talking about Sharlto Copley? This guy is one of my all time favorite actors, and for good reason. He has all of the best lines in this movie, and quite frankly, it’s clear that Wheatley wrote Vernon as his favorite character. It shows in every line Copley delivers. He’s the best part of the movie, hands down, and I know I may be a little biased in saying that, but I don’t really care.

When I think of all my favorite parts in this movie, they all come from the last half hour or so. I was looking at the time all throughout the movie wondering how they were going to fit in what I wanted to see with the time running out so quickly. This is not a long movie, so when I got to the 45 minute mark, I kinda lost hope that this movie was going to be as exciting as I originally thought it was going to be. Then the third act happens and it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help but wonder where all that energy and excitement and humor was for the beginning and the middle. Ben Wheatley did not handle the material well in his writing and seriously undersold what this movie could have been. The whole thing is a huge missed opportunity, which is sad because I see so much potential.

Free Fire had everything it needed to be a cult classic. It had a really cool idea, memorable characters, a great cast of actors, and a writer/director that has proven his skill in the past. I’m still not sure what happened. The finished product is a lackluster action/comedy that provides a good deal of laughs but is bogged down by an overly short run time and a surprising lack of energy. This film could have been an incident of hilarious contained chaos, but it never reaches this potential which left me wanting so much more. This is one of the bigger cinematic disappointments I’ve seen in quite some time.

Final Grade: C-

Ghost in the Shell – Review

2 Apr

Back in 1989 a three volume manga series called Ghost in the Shell was released and told a story concerning a dystopian future where it becomes almost impossible to see where humanity ends and technology begins. This short manga series paved the way for an entire franchise to thrive and grow on. First, there was the mega hit anime film from 1995, which totally floored me the first time I watched it and only got better when I revisited it. There was also a very popular anime series titled Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, of which I have some experience with, but not as much as I’d like. There’s been a whole string of sequels and adaptations, and now Hollywood has thrown itself into the mix. Does it stand up with the original source material? Not quite, but it does work as engaging popcorn entertainment.

In the future, cybernetics have come so far that robotic upgrades to the human body has become something as normal as plastic surgery. The most extreme case of this blending of organic and artificial is Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), whose body is completely cybernetic but is controlled by a human brain. The Major, along with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and boss Chief Aramaki (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano), defend Section 9 again all sorts of criminals, but specialize in cyber terrorism. After an attack on a business meeting run by the powerful Hanka Industries, the Major and the rest of the Section 9 bureau go on the hunt for a new, powerful cyber terrorist who appears to be targeting scientists that worked on a specific project for Hanka. As the clues begin to add up, the Major is forced to take a good, hard look at herself and begins to learn about her past and the lies that she’s been being fed to keep her complacent.

When I first saw this version of Ghost in the Shell, I left the theater super excited. I was ready to go back in and watch the movie again, but as time has gone on, that excitement has sort of waned. Don’t misunderstand me, though, I still really enjoyed this movie. The over the top hype has just died down a little bit. Let me get the best part of this movie out of the way first. This is a stunning film to look at. There’s so much going on in most of the shots of this movie that I found my eyes darting around the screen just to take in all of the little bits that make up the breathtaking whole. This is an achievement of what practical and CGI special effects are capable of. Along with the gorgeous city wide shots and the not so glamorous streets and alleys comes action sequences that are impossible to forget. Director Rupert Sanders and cinematographer Jess Hall have a very strong grip on how to make an action sequence seem to burst from the screen. The compositions, use of slow motion, and even the minor visual tricks make the action in Ghost in the Shell some of the best I’ve seen in quite some time.

So the special effects and action sequences are all way above average and stand out as something truly remarkable. Unfortunately, the same can’t quite be said about the story. The story isn’t bad, but it didn’t really grab me as hard as it should have. The plot about the cyber terrorist was engaging and his design is great, but there were parts that didn’t really do it for me. Part of the story is the Major investigating her past to find out what really happened to her. Those scenes don’t have the emotional or mysterious resonance as they probably should, because we already know something is amiss from the beginning just because of how certain characters are acting. I had a pretty good idea about what was going on, and it really didn’t break any new ground like the 1995 anime film did. Granted, the story in that film took a back seat to the grand philosophical discussions about technology and humanity, which made it clear that that’s what that movie was about. This one has a story that takes a back seat to the action, but it also doesn’t have the thematic strength of the 1995 film either.

Any fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise will also have a good time picking out easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, but they will also appreciate some scenes that have been meticulously recreated for this live action blockbuster. This isn’t really an objective part of my review, but it was kind of thrilling seeing some of the iconic moments from the franchise brought to life with a super large budget. It also helped that the actors were largely committed to their roles. Johansson does a great just as the Major, and does a great job at bringing a human side to the character while also feeling mechanical. She has truly established herself as an action star for this generation. Another stand out is “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki, but that’s really no surprise. It’s always a joy to see Kitano in anything.

Ghost in the Shell isn’t going to be the next Blade Runner or Matrix movie, but for me to sit here and tell you that it doesn’t provide a really entertaining couple of hours would be a down right lie. The story could have been beefed up to be actually mysterious and it could have raised more questions in the way the 1995 film did. In terms of its action and its role as being a big budget extravaganza, it succeeds more than it fails. I can see how people new to the franchise may be a little confused or uninterested in parts of it, but as a fan of the original anime film and what I’ve seen of Stand Alone Complex, I thought this was a damn good adaptation.

Final Grade: B+