Ghost in the Shell Review: The connection to this beautiful network is a bit slow

If I knew how to write the sound of a dial-up modem, I would make a slow connection joke here, but alas I don’t think it would translate as well in text as it does in an audio format. Oddly enough, this issue of translation may be one of the key factor’s that Ghost in the Shell falls short of its animated companion, however before that let’s do a quick dive into the elephant in the room that has been surrounding this movie from the start, just so we can get it out-of-the-way.

Whitewashing; To some, the epitome of evil, to others an annoying conversation they see online every time they open Twitter or Facebook. When it was announced the Scarlett Johansson was going to be playing Major Motoko Kusanagi, there was significant vocal backlash over a white actor playing what many considered to be a Japanese character. Couple this with other movies being called out, such as Dr. Strange for the Ancient one, and the ‘white guys in sand’ movie Gods of Egypt, it’s clear to see that there are some who take umbrage with not casting actors and actresses of their respective nationality in these roles. While I personally agree with these concerns, I cannot overlook the fact that the Major is a cyborg character, and cyborgs CAN be a mismatch of parts, or in this case ethnicity. The director of the original GitS, Mamoru Oshii, made a similar case as well saying “What issue could there possibly be with casting her? The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her.” Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.” So while I personally would have liked to see an Japanese actress play the character, I believe this is one of the cases where a dialogue about the ethnicity of the character can be had.

GHOST IN THE SHELL

With that out-of-the-way, let’s charge headlong into the movie itself. Right out of the gate, you are hit with a breathtaking view of the city it’s set in, which for the life of me I cannot remember what they called it. As we sail over the city, the cyberpunk aesthetics really show how foreign this world is and lays some of the ground work for the visual buffet we receive in this roughly two-hour movie. It also shows us the attention to detail that the film makers took when paying homage to its animated, and by proxy manga source material.

It is this homage however which might be the movie’s actual undoing. There is no doubt that showing love to your source material is a smart move, especially when it comes to properties from anime, video games and comic books, yet when your focus is primarily on showcasing said love over creating a true adaptation, you start to muddle your over all message and story. I think this is the trap that GitS fell into, as for each scene lifted directly from the animated movie, it misses the deeper meaning and context that these scenes are trying to address.

For example Chin Han’s Togusa is straight up human, no augments what so ever, yet his humanity in this movie is passed over so very quickly, essentially a joke to be played off of another character, Lasarus Ratuere’s Ishikawa, who is an enhancement junkie as he got a new modification so he could drink more. In the anime these theme’s are much more of a focal point to these characters, and give each team member a more flushed out personality. I will say however out of all of the characters in this movie, Batou, played by Pilou Asbæk, is handled with the most respect in comparison to their animated counterpart.

Putting focus on the Major for a moment, I want to talk about her as our vehicle or point of view throughout the movie.  Her development, not only from a character within the movie, but as an analog to themes such as what individualism is in such an over saturated world of technology is, for the most part, done fairly well. She takes many of the traits from the anime and blends them into a decently believable character. However much like the lack of depth found within the movie plot and theme mentioned earlier, Mrs Johansson’s direction and depth are also very surface level. For every great nod to Motoko animated/manga origins we get over simplification of her surroundings or feelings which makes it seem like the movie doesn’t trust its audience enough to understand a more complex story or the more ambiguous character development from its source material.

GitS boss

This might be most apparent in the villain/not villain the film decides to use for the majority of its run time. Kuze is an amalgamation of different antagonists within the Ghost in the Shell universe. A hacker, a cyborg, a victim and a villain all rolled into one, and instead of focusing on one of these aspect’s individually, or straight up lifting a single villain from the movies/series GitS tries to, in an oddly funny way, create a new life out of remains of old ones. In hind sight, this may be actually a very clever nod to the premise of the movie, but it still doesn’t give the audience a character they can become invested in, especially when you take away that character’s agency and threat by hard cutting to the films other antagonist, the Hanka CEO Cutter. Confused yet? don’t worry there are many who are. As a shady CEO, Cutter has been trying to create a new breed of soldier that has all of the benefits befitting a cyborg who has human emotions, yet is completely obedient.

At the end of the day, Ghost in the Shell is a love letter to fans of the anime and manga. It’s stunning visuals bring you into a world that is full of wonder, but that wonder sit’s on such a flat surface it drains much of that vibrant colour, not only from said world, but from the characters who are inhabiting it, in favour of a safe story that doesn’t challenge you, the audience member, in any real intellectual way. This lack of intellectual honesty mean it suffers from what many video game movies have trouble with; Not fully embracing the source material in a proper way.

As with all of my reviews I am using a -10 to 0 score where a -10 is utter garbage and a 0 is as close to perfect as you can get.

Final Score -3.5

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Venom, Black Cat and the Silver Sable: The potentially R rated universe we aren’t sure we want

Currently there is a triple threat match taking place in the world of superhero movies. Marvel is our titular hero, with its high flying moves to wow the crowd and the years of experience it has behind it to land these tried and tested crowd pleasers. Their opponents are veteran of the pen & paper ring making their relative debut to live action in DCEU, and a fighter of fluctuating skill in Fox. But wait! What’s this! A new challenger in the Cinematic universe fight of the century; SONY!

To be fair, all of these companies have been in the superhero business for a while now, but it is only in the past five years when we are seeing the cinematic universe race pick up its pace, and Sony, the focus today, does not want to be left behind. Currently they are in conjunction with Marvel over the use of Spider-man in the MCU, and while Sony still owns the rights to the character, Marvel is directing the ship anytime Spider-man appears in their universe. So the obvious choice is for Sony to start their own cinematic universe without this Spidey AND kick off their universe with a Venom character right. . . . right?

Snark aside, Venom seems to be front and center in this new Sony Cinematic universe and for better or worse it looks like they are going for an R rating, making the Symbiote a starkly different character compared to their other properties. Couple this with the announcement of both a Black Cat and a Silver Sable film, or a Black Cat/Silver Sable, as it is not very clear at the moment, Sony is looking to build this universe from the ground up on secondary and tertiary characters, many of which are obscure to even some comic book fans. I will talk about the ladies in a moment, but first let’s focus on the main aspect of these announcement’s; Venom, and what/how he could be brought to the big screen.

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I have been seeing three big story idea’s being thrown around for the Venom movie, all of them with some, in my opinion, serious merit. They are the Horror angle, as the image above suggests, a new Spider-man separate from Tom Hollands character in the MCU and an Agent Venom story line, where Flash Thompson receives the symbiote after losing his legs in war.  Out of the three, the Agent Venom potential story arc intrigues me the most but let’s break down what each of these could actually turn into.

With the Horror genre really getting its groove back over the past couple of years, it makes a lot of sense to take a character who can be creepy as hell and put him in that genre. Not only does the symbiote take over a person, so sit’s comfortably in a body horror skin, pun intended, but is also stands in the shadow of movies like Alien as a creature that can hunt it’s enemies. Think of how Spider-man cannot ‘spidey sense’ Venom, and apply that to a group of military personal who are trying to capture the symbiote. Having to use tech like motion sensors, sonic weapons and fire to battle a horrific creature could be a really compelling movie. This is also where I think the R rating stands at its strongest. Horror almost always benefits from this rating as it allows the film makers to explore the harder hitting nature of violence, mature subject matter, and gore.

The second option seems to revolve around a new Spider-man within the Sony universe. Many put forth that Miles Morales would make a great addition to their roster, not only as he is a great character, but also gives us another multi-cultural character to enjoy. Whether or not you care about that personally, it is a big issue in the movie world, and as we have seen with movies like Ghost in the Shell, people want to see more diverse characters in their movies, and not always default to “the white person”. While I don’t know much about Morales personally, as I don’t follow Spider-man much, I do know he is a beloved character, so any of his story arc’s would make a great backdrop to spin Venom into, but I imagine they would take a hard look at adapting the ‘Venom Wars’ story arc.

Silver Sable

The last option many people are talking about, and one that I am personally the most excited for, is the Agent Venom angle. This puts Flash Thompson, a character from Peter Parker’s Spider-man past, in the role of our anti-hero. After losing his legs in the Iraq war, he is bonded the symbiote so he can continue to serve in the military. The bond between man and monster can only be short-lived, as Venom looks to take over his human host and wreak destruction once he has control. I like this idea for two major reasons. The first is the fact that a action-horror military movie could be really awesome as the supernatural elements, in terms of strength speed and resilience of Venom vs regular military personal, would create a cool dynamic as they have to control not only the creature, but the message about how it is being used.  The other aspect is that you could tie Silver Sable into this movie as an introduction to the character and the general movie going public before her solo outing.  She is another military style character, so her expertise could be used to either try to contain the symbiote fueled Flash, or as the hunt squad needed to bring it back under control.

The other two movies Sony has touched on are the aforementioned Silver Sable, and Black Cat. I will fully admit I don’t know much about these characters, as Silver Sable has never seen a huge arc come to fruition in the comics and Black Cat, as well as Catwoman from DC, have never interested me much due to their character design and, in my opinion, lack of interesting story lines. It might also be my age, but I am really tired of “My super power is a low-cut costume and flexibility”, but that is a different story all together.

Silver Sable, as I mentioned above could fit very nicely into an Agent Venom story, to then spin-off into her own movie. Her outfit, the Wild Pack, is a mercenary group who hunts war criminals and while one of her main rivals, Doctor Doom, is out of the picture at the moment due to rights issues, there are a ton of smaller characters that can be drawn upon for her and her group to battle against. This would give Sony a, if done correctly, strong female lead who has the team dynamics of say a Cyclops or Storm, with the grit and guns of a Punisher, Deadpool or Grifter, minus the healing factor or other mutant abilities of the latter two. If Sony and Marvel could make another trade of minor characters, we could potentially see a Baroness Zemo as a Villainess to Sables hero in her own standalone.

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As to Black Cat, I think my bias to this character comes out to strong, much like my dislike of Catwoman. I think there is potential if you are doing something like a heist movie, in a similar vein to Ant-Man. I also think her movie would be ripe for cameo’s from other hero’s in the universe, in a sort of backdoor announcement, much like Luke Cage was in Jessica Jones. However I am truly at a loss for what would make this character stand out enough to warrant their own movie. If you guys have an idea let me know.

As the months roll on, I am sure we will hear more about these movies, their potential franchises and other characters Sony wan’t to add into their universe. Do we hear about the Sinister Six, the Green/Hob Goblin’s, or any myriad of other characters Sony can pull from to be the fourth pillar in this Superhero cinematic universe showdown.

Destiny 2 Trailer: Snark, Splendor and the CGI cut-scene that gives us some direction for the future fight against Gary

Bungie and Activision have finally dropped their official announcement on Destiny 2.  They started off with a very clever teaser trailer that focuses on Cayde-6, drinking in a bar with our boy Sweeps, the sweeper bot from the tower, as he recounts his heroics in battle, which presumably took place just moments before he poured his drink.  His self bravado get punctuated by a high velocity round blowing out the side of the building he is in as Sweeps, my own name as I do not think any of them actually have names, looks up in shock as a new mess is made and goes to start cleaning up while Cayde picks up his pistol and starts to make his way towards the still ongoing fight further up the road, while commander Zavala yells at him over the com. Extremely well done and sets the mood for their full trailer reveal.

The full trailer gives us a much better picture of what is going on. The Traveler has taken a beating, and is potentially dead, our ghosts are nowhere to be found, and the bloody Cabal have invaded the last city of earth, destroyed the tower and blew up all our stuff! This heinous act of is perpetrated by none other than. . . . GARY!, no wait. GHAUL! A Primus, at least, of the Red Legion is the antagonist we have to face off against, and he brings with him a seemingly host of new enemies to battle. While only a CG trailer, we do see some sort of reptilian dog creatures and some huge melee based warriors who wield two large cleaver’s charged with energy. We also see variations on more traditional enemy units like the Cabal Phalanx, as their traditionally ‘iron slab’ shields have been changed to an expanding energy shield.

Destiny 2 redguard

Visually this trailer looks pretty awesome, there is no denying that, however it doesn’t actually give us a ton of concrete information, and there is just a lot of speculation as to how the story will unfold. If, like me, you enjoy the lore of Destiny I highly recommend checking out a gentleman named ‘My Name is Byf’ on YouTube as he does an incredible job of deep diving the existing lore, and extrapolating on new lore that is still being released.

We do know some information however, as places like Gamestop and Amazon have revealed, we know that there is a character named Hawthorne, who has survived outside the city and without the Guardians protection for many years. We also know that we are on the hunt for new weapons, and humanities scattered heroes thanks to the flavour text in the Destiny 2 collectors edition.

Here is where the speculation aspect comes in, as everything from this point onward is me spit-balling and sharing my wants over what a new Destiny game should be. On the subject of reuniting humanities scattered heroes, I think this is a nod to all of the characters we hear about in the lore. Characters like Efrideet, Tolan, Osiris, Eris Morn, The Awoken Queen Mara Sov and maybe even the Nine. Finding characters like these could be the single player campaign not only gives you a solid foundation to build your story upon, but a great way to include the lore directly into the story, and make many of their player base happy with the lore integration. The fact that Destiny’s lore was on a website and not in the game rubbed many the wrong way, as it is fun to read about what the hell is going on.

Destiny 2 New heroes

Putting aside the trailer though, what really does Destiny 2 need to accomplish, to not only fix the mistakes made on the first game, but to set themselves up for success over this games, presumably, three-year life cycle. It’s first major hurdle is Bungie’s continued adamant stance that it is “like an MMO”. This continued perception not only makes their positives seem muted; such as great gun play, which is a strength of this franchise, gets relegated to a lesser position in the conversation because the empty world, poor story telling and generally un-fulfilling loot grind overshadow it; and its negatives, as previously mentioned, get thrust into the limelight for everyone to criticize. Destiny 2 should be looked at as a Drop-in/Drop-out co-op action adventure game that happens to have hub stations to meet up with more people than you can fit in a team.

The other integral thing Bungie needs to get right is their story. Let’s be blunt here, they fucked up. Their original story was good or bad, no one outside their team knows, and they decided to change it last-minute into some sort of disjointed Frankenstein narrative. It was like Zack Snyder was cutting this game together. Visually looked great, but you could barely connect two plot points together without spending twenty minutes looking through grimoire cards to figure out what was going on. If Destiny 2 is going to continue to earn any good will back, some earned via the Taken King and Rise of Iron, then their story has to be on point. In my mind a 40-60 hour story arc, as a single player campaign, is the time-frame to try to hit. This gives your casual players a good amount of content to go through and experience and allows your hardcore grinders a solid experience they will still rush through but, hopefully, keeps them engaged longer in strikes, dailies and the like on top of their PvP and Raid schedules.

Lastly, something I would personally like to see is the advancement of gun and armour. The infusion system introduced in the original Destiny was a really great step in the right direction, but I personally would like to see more done with this aspect. I look at games like Mass Effect Andromeda, and how as you gain levels you gain access to build/research second, third, etc tier weapons which make them slightly better. If you coupled this type of mechanic with Destiny’s weapon/armour attribute system, not only would this flush out the armoury, it would allow users to really invest in their equipment and gives us, the players, a chance to really look and feel different from the thousand other players.

That said, we have to wait until May 18th to see some actual game play for the game, and that game play will help us really get a grasp on what we should be expecting in Destiny 2.