Sunday, April 2, 2017

Scarlett Johansson fails to save 'Ghost In The Shell' from so-so reviews

Scarlett Johansson plays a Japanese woman who is "improved" by making her white.


THE REVIEWS are in and box office receipts have been counted after the first weekend of the Ghost in the Shell debuted on American theaters and it doesn't bode well for the sci-fi action feature.
First off, Scarlett Johansson has got playing an artificial being down pat. In case you didn't pick it up, I mean that with a note of sarcasm. After playing a 'bot in the movies Her and in Lucy, playing a cyborg was a sinch since the role calls for a minimum of emoting.
The casting brouhaha over whitewashing - casting a white woman in a Japanese role  - required an explanation that is not in the anime originals. Major Motoko Kusanagi  is in fact, Japanese but her new outer shell is a white female. Uh ... OK.

That raises another concern even more insidious than whitewashing. By making the Major white, is that considered an "improvement" over the original Japanese body? The idealization of Major's synthetic body serves to advance Eurocentric (white) standards of beauty, something that eye surgeons in Asian countries are already too familiar as their patients seek to emulate the round-eye look.
But, I digress. The lukewarm reception was reflected at the box office with Ghost garnering a weak $19 million in its domestic opening[ behind Boss Baby and Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Internationally, it fared much better, finishing No. 1 in 11 markets, including the Hong Kong,China and Japan markets. Despite that success, because of its poor showing in the American market, It is now expected that the movie will not recoup the $110 million cost of production.

What is the big difference between the U.S. audiences and overseas? Since the casting of Johansson was announced, the movie has been under a cloud of controversy over the whitewashing of the Major's role. The choice of box-office star Johansson in the lead role was an issue only on this side of the Pacific.

The criticism was recently and especially strong in social media where AAPI users have greater influence than on the pages of mainstream media. The one certain thing the criticism did, it raised the discussion of whitewashing beyond the AAPI community, which has struggled with the issue for decades.

“Many in Japan have been so brainwashed by Western culture that they’ve developed an inferiority complex about their own. They assume that in order for an American film to be successful, it has to star a white actor," Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian American, told The Hollywood Reporter. "Tell that to Zhang Yimou, who spent $150 million directing The Great Wall starring Matt Damon only to see it flop worldwide and receive terrible reviews. He’s not going to make his money back.”


The anime version of the Ghost.
Johansson named the top grossing actor of 2016 by Forbes, tried to defend herself in the March issue of Marie Claire magazine.

"I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person," she said. "Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive." That's a good rationalization, but her defense wasn't good enough for the AAPI community.


Johansson, who facies herself a progressive politically, just didn't "get it." She couldn't put herself in the shoes of the Asian/American actresses who were not even considered for the role. How can AAPI actors ever become "bankable" if they are never given an opportunity to "break through" with a substantive role?

“Apparently, in Hollywood, Japanese people can’t play Japanese people anymore,” quips MANAA President Robert Chan.
The whitewashing controversy wasn't the only reason the film got such poor reviews, but it did cast the project in a negative light even before the first frame was edited. By the time the project was ready to be seen, critics already had high expectations because of the questions raised by social media networkersParamount could tell by the Google searches it was monitoring that in the final week before the film opened, potential moviegoers were checking out reviews before making a decision in higher than usual numbers.
Initially, the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score rose as high as 71 percent positive reviews, based on the first enthusiastic fanboy reactions and critiques from Europe. But as the week progressed and more reviews poured in, the movie’s score began to plummet, eventually falling to 42 percent. Ghost’s tracking, which initially suggested the film might open in the high-$20 million range, maybe even cross over into low-$30 million territory, hit a wall.
“It was very Rotten Tomatoes-sensitive. Lots of people were seeking out information about the film,” says Colligan. “And we got hit pretty hard by the print journalists.”
The reviews have not been that good. Get a load of this sampling

This is smart, hard-lacquered entertainment that may just trump the original films for galloping storytelling momentum and sheer, coruscating visual excitement. Full review
- Guy Lodge, Variety

... a heavily computer-generated enterprise with more body than brains, more visuals than ideas, as if the original movie’s hard drive had been wiped clean of all that was dark, poetic and mystifying.
- Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter

Enjoy the credits because they offer some of the more arresting, inventive images in this visually cluttered yet often disappointingly drab movie. Full review
- Manohla Dargis, NYTimes

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. Full review
- Dan Jolin, Empire


"Ghost in the Shell" struggles to dig below the surface of its thought-provoking concepts and bring real depth to its striking visuals. Full review
- Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant

The filmmakers think little of the emotional and intellectual connection fans already have with this property, and have put all their chips on the aesthetic. Full review
- Emily Yoshida, Vulture

One can hardly blame cyborgs for not coming across like flesh-and-blood characters but it’s not easy to care what happens to any of the protagonists since they so rarely generate moments of human emotion.
- Lisa Nesselson, Screen International