Ghost in the Shell ★★★★★

2017 movie viewings, #73. If it's true that our opinion of a movie is influenced not just by our critical thoughts of it, but also by the circumstances under which we watched it, then this is doubly true for me when it comes to seeing 3D tentpole films in the theater, something I only do maybe once every year and a half, because at the age of 48 I find the whole thing to be an expensive and frustration-filled process all in the service of a bunch of crappy fake spectacles I had little interest in watching in the first place. And so when I went to the high-end Showplace Icon theater here in Chicago last Sunday, high as all fuck, to see the new live-action version of '90s anime classic Ghost in the Shell, where I was able to buy my ticket on my phone at a discounted rate because of the theater's membership program, then settled into my pullout recliner in the middle of the third row with my popcorn and soda just to realize that I was the single only person in the entire theater who had bought a reserved ticket in the first three rows, making the viewing essentially a private screening just for me, as I sat my THC-addled ass twenty feet away from the giant screen and let the whole thing wash over me like a sensory wet dream, I understood that all this was going to have a profound influence over the fact that I seemed to like the movie a lot more than most other people at Letterboxd who have been posting reviews over the last few days.

And indeed, I find myself chuckling at a lot of the semi-disappointed reviews that have been rolling in since the movie came out a few days ago, about how this live-action version slightly "dumbs down" the story originally seen in Mamoru Oshii's 1995 Japanese original (itself based on a 1989 manga by Masamune Shirow); because to be clear, what we're talking about is a Young Adult comic book started when Reagan was still President, about a kickass cyborg soldier who's been implanted in the robot body of a hot 18-year-old girl, which was not exactly Chekhov to begin with. Despite the hand-wringing by the anime purists, let me assure you that the live-action version gets across every important detail found in the original cartoon, even if they do get across a lot of this information in a more straightforwardly expository style than the sometimes head-scratching anime version, which in classic '90s sci-fi style tends to just throw the audience into the middle of the action then slowly gets you caught up with the backstory as the movie continues.

Much more importantly, though -- and this is where the movie's critics and I see eye-to-eye -- this is easily one of the most visually stunning movies now made in the entirety of human history; and granted, it helps if you're high as fuck and sitting twenty feet away from a warehouse-sized screen while leaning back in a recliner within a totally empty theater, but I can attest that when I did watch the movie under such circumstances, it produced a truly startling effect that I never thought I'd have a chance to relive again, which is that it transported me back to my twenties in the 1990s when the anime first came out, back when I was obsessively reading every cyberpunk novel I could get my hands on, had a subscription to Futuresex magazine, and would shave the sides of my head and wear my black trenchcoat to the local rave while on mushrooms and spacing out on a VHS copy of The Mind's Eye being projected on a bedsheet tied to the back wall of the danceclub (and don't you dare laugh at that, my fine young fam doge dank Millennial friends).

Back then, I ached to actually live in a cyberpunk future, and would excitedly project myself into the pages of my dogeared William Gibson books as I read them for the fifth, sixth, seventh time, imagining the poison dart gun that had been surgically implanted in my temple and that I could control with my mind, as I cruised down a rain-slicked back alley in London chasing my beautiful Asian nemesis with the permanently installed mirror contact lenses and whose cyberspace passwords are all written in ancient Sumarian; and now with Ghost in the Shell I am actually there, as its impressively nuanced 3D quite literally enfolds around you as you sit in your chair, and its cutting-edge CG transports you to a realer-than-real dystopian megapolis located in an unnamed Asian country in an undated future, one in which America no longer exists but Caucasians have been enfolded into Asian culture in a slippery global amalgamation of East and West (making the brief protests about Scarlett Johansson "whitewash casting" here hit way off the mark, and marking those protestors as people who obviously know nothing about transhuman dystopic science-fiction).

I mean, sure, the movie's got its problems -- what 200 million, multinational tentpole CG orgy doesn't? But goddamnit, in a world where all of you plebes spoo your fucking pants every time some dipshit in blue tights and a cape punches some other dipshit in red tights and a cape, we should cut Ghost in the Shell a bit of a break for its very understandable weaknesses, because when all is said and done, it's head-and-shoulders better than most of these other Friday-night catastrophes that studios now live and die by on a regular basis. So, you know, keep living in your drab little world of going to the coffeehouse and checking your Facebook and riding the bus like a schmuck; I'll instead be speeding down the highways of New Port City on my sentient motorcycle, clutching the waist of my cyborg girlfriend Scarlett Johansson, as we blast dubstep through our necrotic exoskeletons and help Section 9 rid the connected world of insidious, artificially intelligent evil. Klaatu barada nikto, motherfuckers!

Jason Pettus liked these reviews