Update 3/31/17 10:45 a.m.:
Turns out "Ghost in the Shell" is not winning over the majority of critics. Although TooFab reported on Thursday the movie was receiving mostly positive reviews, with a "fresh" Rotten Tomato score of 70 percent at the time, Friday's tally told a different story. As of now, the film stands at a 46 percent approval rating from 119 critics counted.
Still, some critics did respond favorably to Scarlett Johansson's performance as Major, despite the whitewashing casting controversy, including our own TooFab critic, who's review has been inserted into the story below.
“Ghost in the Shell” hits theaters Friday, and despite rampant backlash for casting Caucasian movie star Scarlett Johansson in a role originally previously filled by a Japanese character, the majority of critics are giving the action flick two thumbs up.
Set in the mid-21st century in an unnamed futuristic city in East Asia, “Ghost in the Shell” –- which in Japan is known as Mobile Armored Riot Police –- is an adaptation of Masamune Shirow's Japanese manga, which was first adapted into anime movies.
In the live-action adaptation, Johansson plays Major Mira Killian, a cyber-enhanced human created to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping some of the most dangerous cyber-criminals in the world. As terrorism peeks to somewhat Orwellian standards where people’s minds are invaded and then controlled, Major Mira fights to stop it, only to realize she’s been a victim the whole time.
So far, "Ghost in the Shell" has a 70 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which counts 31 out of 44 reviews as positive. According to the review aggregator's consensus, the movie “boasts cool visuals and a compelling central performance from Scarlett Johansson, even if the end result lacks the magic of the movie's classic source material.”
The positive reviews may be a bit surprising to some, considering how much scrutiny Johansson's casting has come under. But both the actress and even the original anime's director have argued the criticism of whitewashing a character is invalid, because the character isn't even human. "She's essentially identity-less," Johansson said on "GMA" earlier this week, while Japanese filmmaker Mamoru Oshii argued "there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her.”
“I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie," Oshii said, and some critics agree.
The Telegraph gave “Ghost in the Shell” four out of five stars, saying it's actually “Scarlett Johansson’s soulful action spectacle” that proves those complaining about her casting wrong.
“Purists may not want to hear it, but she’s ideal at the conceptual side of the role. The unusual disconnect between Johansson’s intelligence and her coolly dispassionate looks has been exploited before, most brilliantly in Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin.’”
Our TooFab review, however, kicked off with a different take.
"Let's get something clear right out of the gate: 'Ghost in the Shell,' a live-action of a classic Japanese manga (comic book) and anime, would have been better served with a Japanese lead actress," our critic wrote. "It would have been the more appropriate choice for the material, and made a big statement that Hollywood was finally willing to move on past a century of cultural appropriation and allow non-white people tell their own stories. The movie should have starred, say, 'Pacific Rim'actress Rinko Kikuchi, not Scarlett Johansson awkwardly sporting Kikuchi’s angular bob haircut."
But that doesn't mean our critic hated it. Quite the contrary, actually.
"All that being said, “Ghost in the Shell” is a very good movie; by far the best effects-drenched sci-fi adaptation in several years," our TooFab review continued before noting, "Johansson does her best with the material and role, which require her to suppress emotions for much of the film; she's a pro and makes it come alive as much as possible."
IGN praised the film for taking creative liberties while holding true to the beloved franchise.
"The best thing ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has going for it is that it doesn't strive to be a frame-for-frame remake of Mamoru Oshii's 1995 anime film," critic Terri Schwartz wrote. "Instead, it draws on elements from the wealth of source material, from the manga to the TV series like ‘Stand Alone Complex’ to, of course, the original film. In doing so, Sanders captures the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ aesthetic and experience and is able to translate the tone for a modern audience.”
But other critics felt that in order to “translate the tone for a modern audience,” fundamental elements should not have been overlooked. The Verge, for example, said the movie is “a solid film built on a broken foundation.”
The publication backed its criticism by pointing out that although director Rupert Sanders and his production team “demonstrate a real appreciation for Masamune Shirow’s original manga and the adaptations and spinoffs that followed it,” the film “fails to treat race and cultural identity as realities.”
The Verge also argued that the movie “puts style before substance,” in that a great deal of time is spent focusing on Major Mira’s desire to better understand herself and her limits in terms of her family’s traumatic past.
“Ghost in the Shell” hits theaters Friday, March 31.