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Gifted •••1/2

Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: Tom Flynn
Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: April 14, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Well Scott, this next movie is my gift to you. Let’s hope it’s not re-gifted.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

After seeing your teeth, I’ll never look a gift horse in the mouth again. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) who is as adorable as she is precocious. Her uncle Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is trying to convince her that she needs to go to grade school and not be home-schooled any more. He wants her to get out and among other children her own age, despite the fact that she’s smarter than most people – in fact she’s a genius. She goes to school and impresses her teacher, Bonny (Jenny Slate), with her aptitude. Soon, the principal gets involved and everyone wants Mary to go to a school for “gifted” children.


Frank resists all suggestions that Mary deviate from the normal life of a young kid. We learn that Frank’s sister Diane (Mary’s mother) was also a math genius, and that Diane’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) forced Diane to focus only on math at the expense of a normal childhood. As a result, Diane became a severely depressed adult, a fate that Frank wants to spare Mary. A court battle ensues between Frank and Evelyn over Mary’s fate.


This film bears a striking similarity to 1991’s Little Man Tate In which Jodie Foster plays a mother trying to make sure her 7-year old genius son gets a normal upbringing. With a nod towards 2014’s Black and White where Kevin Costner tries to keep his mixed-race child. Gifted raises the question of whether a gifted child is the property of family or of society. Is it better that a child grow up to her full potential and the benefit of mankind, or be allowed to integrate with her peers.

Gifted fails to answer this question and ultimately offers a middle ground where Mary goes to special school and also integrates with ordinary children in Brownies and soccer. It’s not a satisfying answer, but makes for a harmonious ending.


Greg, I must confess that Gifted won my heart. The story pivots around determining the best way to raise a young child genius, with loads of family baggage interfering with the kid’s best interests. Evelyn is using Mary to fulfill her (Evelyn’s) unfulfilled dreams of solving mathematics’ most vexing problems. Our hero Frank isn’t “using” Mary per se, but he himself is guilty of overcompensating for his sister’s loss by denying the development of the girl’s genius.

We have a duo hero pairing of Frank and Mary. There are multiple layers of hero’s journeys here, with the Mary’s departure to public school, then another departure when Evelyn appears, and yet another when Mary is sent to a foster home. Each layer offers challenges to our heroes, with Frank navigating through the legal system and Mary navigating through emotional hardship.


It’s interesting that you call Frank and Mary duo heroes. In our study of heroes we’ve seen romantic duos, buddy duos, and family structure heroes. We haven’t seen many father/daughter heroes. We also have the mother/child dynamic between Evelyn and Frank. There’s baggage aplenty that needs to be sorted out.

Still I see Frank as the main character and Mary the pawn in a power struggle between our hero Frank and the villain-mother Evelyn. We care about Mary’s ultimate disposition but it’s Frank who has agency and is at odds with powers above him.  

But the fact that it isn’t clear who is the hero in this story is an indication of weak storytelling. We also have a mentor in next-door-neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) who offers little in the way of advice and gifts that normal mentors give. In fact, she seems to be there mainly as a babysitter that allows Frank to have a night off and get into trouble. As a character, she really doesn’t do much. Overall, it’s a weak bit of story structure.


I see the character of Mary as a dynamic, highly memorable person who just about steals the show, thanks to skillful acting from Mckenna Grace. Mary is far more than a pawn. She’s on equal heroic ground with her father Frank, in my opinion.

Both hero characters undergo a meaningful transformation. Mary has to roll with the punches, and there are many of them, and so we witness her growing emotionally and socially. Frank is the hero character who must soften his rigidity. Convinced his sister would focus only on developing Mary’s social skills, Frank neglects Mary’s genius but comes around in the end to the idea of honoring Mary’s intellect while balancing it with socialization.


There is a bit of transformation, but it doesn’t seem dramatic to me. Frank gives in a little and allows Mary to grow intellectually. Evelyn relents and lets Frank and Mary go their way. But of course, Evelyn only does so because she has what she wanted – the solution to a mathematical puzzle that confounded her and was realized by her own daughter. Still, I don’t see Mary transforming much. She was a smart and precocious child at the beginning and is still the same at the end.

Gifted is an entertaining if idealized look at the challenges of raising a gifted child. It glosses over the fact that genius is not typically inherited but rather a sporadic happenstance. Mary is an adorable seven-year-old (capably played by an eleven-year-old Mckenna Grace). We quickly fall for her charms. The film doesn’t really answer the questions it raises and settles for a middle ground that satisfies the audience. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

I feel stories need clear and identifiable heroes, villains, and mentors. It isn’t clear who the hero of this story is. Scott, you feel it’s the duo of Frank and Mary. Yet I can make a good case for it being Frank. And I think a good case could be made that Mary is the hero and Frank is the mentor. And still we could argue that teacher Bonny is a mentor character. When the distinction between our heroes and ancillary characters is blurred, it is difficult to have a satisfying ending to the story. I give our blurry heroes in this story just 2 Heroes out of 5.

Finally, there’s not a lot of clear transformation here. Frank appears to give a little by letting Mary get some college education. Mary is smart and cute from beginning to end. And Evelyn is no more interested in Mary at the end of the film as she was at the beginning. I can only muster 1 Delta out of 5 for Gifted.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Gifted is a heartwarming tale of a child prodigy whose best interests are fought over by two heavily biased family members, each carrying different sets of baggage from the past. Mckenna Grace showcases her enormous talent as an actor in this film, and once I was able to get over Captain America being Mary’s guardian (Chris Evans’ former role), the movie unfolded in an effective and satisfying way. For providing good, emotionally fulfilling entertainment, I award Gifted 4 Reels out of 5.

The duo hero pairing of Frank and Mary had me rooting for them to overcome one heart-wrenching obstacle after another. These two characters enjoyed great chemistry, and we the audience are treated to seeing them grow up together in this film. Frank relies on his deceased sister Diane as his mentor, perhaps to a fault, and of course Mary’s mentor is Frank himself. Evelyn serves as a nice villain character, although we do recognize that Evelyn isn’t completely wrong to nurture Mary’s prodigious talents. I give this hero duo a rating of 3 Hero points out of 5.

Frank arguably undergoes the more dramatic transformation, as he recognizes that Mary’s interests are best served by finding a balance between leading a normal child’s life and nurturing her math genius. The villain Evelyn only comes around for selfish reasons. Mary grows emotionally, socially, and mathematically (which we call mentally in our latest book Reel Heroes & Villains). I give these transformations 3 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Life •••

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: March 24, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just saw a movie that was certainly full of life. And its opposite.


For the life of me I can’t remember a more thrilling movie. Let’s recap:


The six-member crew of an international space station recovers a dormant single-cell life form from Mars. They successfully revive it, and soon it grows into a complex multicellular organism. Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) calls it “all muscle, all brain, and all eye.” Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) conducts experiments on it, and one day the creature grabs onto his hand and won’t let go.


And it begins killing crewmembers. Captain North begins to instantiate the first of three firewalls. They lock the creature in the lab. But things don’t go as planned and it slips into the ventilation system. Now it’s a race against time to try and destroy the creature before it destroys the crew. And since they don’t know if the creature can withstand the rigors of planetary re-entry, they can’t allow the space station’s orbit to decay and allow the creature to get loose on Earth.


Greg, the title of this film, Life, is both brilliant and misleading. Its brilliance lies in the movie’s portrayal of how humans discover new extraterrestrial life. The misleading aspect of the title, of course, resides in the wake of human dead bodies resulting from the alien’s ruthless nature. The creature has an unyielding drive to live, a drive that stops at nothing to destroy and consume all other life forms in its path. This movie called Life is about a death machine.

This film left me feeling disturbed and dismayed about life in the universe and the doom awaiting our own planet. I haven’t felt this deflated and defeated after seeing a movie since 2014’s Nightcrawler. You may recall that Nightcrawler ends not just with evil triumphing over good, but evil growing stronger throughout the movie and remaining seemingly unstoppable at the end. Life does exactly that, too. Perhaps not coincidentally, actor Jake Gyllenhaal stars in both Nightcrawler and Life. To take on these roles, Gyllenhaal must believe that human life is pretty much doomed.


I saw Life as a combination of 1971’s The Andromeda Strain and 1979’s Alien. In The Andromeda Strain a virus is brought to Earth when a satellite crash lands after being hit by a tiny meteor. And of course Alien is the classic horror-in-outer-space thriller about an alien attacking a crew aboard a spaceship.

What all of these films have in common is man’s unwitting demise due to our innate curiosity. We are reaching out into the unknown vastness of space. Some stories talk about the exciting possibilities. Life, and the others, remind us that “here, be dragons.”

I enjoyed Life for what it was – a horror film set in outer space. But there’s not much new here. The creature grows at an alarming rate. It appears to learn even faster. Somehow, it knows about spacecraft, outerspace living, and how to use sharp objects. It’s all very unbelievable. But, since the point of the film is to play upon our darkest fears, logic is not a necessity.


As a horror film, there is a particular storyline formula for our hero ensemble to follow. There must be peace and levity at the outset, followed by an encounter with an unknown entity. Our heroes must underestimate the danger of the entity, with one or two of the heroes making crucial errors allowing the entity to gain better access to the group. One by one the heroes are killed in gruesome fashion by the entity, until the very end when one lone hero survives. But in Life, the survivor appears to be stranded in space while the evil entity has landed on earth and is about to feast on 7 billion inhabitants. Our heroes have failed in their mission — never a sign of good storytelling, in my opinion.

I must say, I much preferred the ending in the original Alien movie in which Sigourney Weaver outwits and outlasts the alien entity. We’re left frightened but exhilarated that good has defeated evil. I do understand that Life’s dismal ending appears necessary as a set-up for a sequel. Imagine the bloodbath that awaits humanity, and all the heroes who will need to step up to stop the monster and its offspring. Still, as a stand-alone story, Life doesn’t work, as our heroes do not transform and use their transformation to prevail.


As we noted in our review of Get Out – story often gives way to shock value in horror stories. Still, not all stories must end happily. If you look the the classic Planet of the Apes (1968), the story ends with our hero realizing that he was stranded on a future planet Earth where Man had destroyed himself, giving way to the rise of the apes. It is a cautionary tale.

In Life we see the same result. Our hero takes the creature to the planet surface and local fisherman unwittingly open the capsule, apparently unleashing the creature on the Earth’s populace. This, too, is a cautionary tale: Don’t mess with mother nature. If Mars is dead, it’s probably best to leave it alone. As we venture out into space, we must be sure not to bring back anything that might harm us. For me, it was a satisfying ending.


Life is a movie about death, lots of it in fact, both onscreen and inevitably soon to come in big numbers in the future. Don’t get me wrong; this movie is expertly crafted and riveting. Our hero ensemble is simply outmatched by this creature designed as a biological weapon, and as such we have a failed hero’s mission and failed hero’s journey. I left the theater feeling worse than when I entered, which is never a good storytelling effect. Because the movie is so well made, I still have to award it 3 Reels out of 5.

There was heroism in this movie, albeit with failed results. Dr. North locks herself out of the space station while the beast is attached to her, thereby (she thinks) saving her colleagues. Dr. Jordan selflessly volunteers to be jettisoned out in space with the creature, thereby (he thinks) saving Golovkina and the planet Earth from the creature. These failed acts of heroism are noteworthy, but they don’t come with any transformation, mentoring, or positive outcomes. As such I can only award these heroes 2 Hero points out of 5.

I didn’t detect any lasting transformations among our heroic characters. Displays of selflessness do occur, and one could argue they stemmed from transformations in the moment. But good storytelling demands a lasting dispositional change in the protagonists, and we don’t get that here, as most of our heroes die. The alien creature undergoes physical transformation — it gets bigger, stronger, and deadlier. So for that reason, I can award 1 Transformation delta out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Life isn’t an original movie. We’ve seen this theme before. What it does have is Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. And that makes it some kind of fun. The creature was pure evil which isn’t unusual in a horror flick. And the ending caught me by surprise, even if it was obvious to my date. I can give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

Our heroes are the spacemen and women. They display the usual elements of heroic behavior including intelligence, strength, and endurance. But not quite enough intelligence – which makes the horror story all the more interesting. I give them just 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And there isn’t a lot of transformation for our heroes. Although the creature undergoes a strong physical transformation. I give it just 2 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Get Out •••1/2

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Horror/Mystery, Rated: R
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: February 24, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, it’s time to get out the old review pad and review this next movie.


Get out of town – let’s recap…


The story begins with a Meet the Parents-like scenario. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to meet the parents of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Chris is concerned because Rose hasn’t told her parents that he’s Black, but she assures him it won’t be an issue. They arrive at the home of Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), and Chris notes the odd behavior of the African-American couple, Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel), who work for the Armitages.

 


Chris is especially worried about Rose’s mother, Missy’s occupation – a hypnotherapist. He doesn’t trust therapists at all and hypnotists least of all. Missy promises to cure Chris of his smoking habit. Later that night, when Chris is craving a cigarette, he goes out on the lawn for a smoke. He encounters the lawnkeeper going for a sprint. When he goes back inside, Missy is there stirring a teacup in a way that causes him to go into a hypnotic trance. She makes him relive his mother’s death when he was a child. It’s a chilling moment for him and for the audience.

 


Greg, Get Out is both odd and oddly enjoyable. The movie taps into a great fear that many of us have involving the meeting of a significant-other’s parents. We want everything to go well, and so good storytelling demands that things go poorly. In Get Out, everyone Chris meets at his girlfriend Rose’s house is either slightly “off” or very much “off”. And it gets worse with time, leading one to wonder why Chris (along with every family in every haunted house movie) doesn’t run fast and run far much sooner than he does.

Despite operating from a predictable formula, this movie strays cleverly from it by focusing on racism in its ugliest forms. I was never able to quite figure out why horrible racists would want the consciousness of their loved ones to inhabit the bodies of what they consider to be racially inferior people. The racists seem to dwell on the so-called size and strength of African-Americans, but it still defies logic that white supremacists would perform this surgical procedure. In any event, the story follows a common pattern but does so in a fresh, albeit bizarre fashion, and the overall cinematic result is strangely enjoyable.

 


To elaborate on what you’re talking about, Scott, we have to let our readers in on the secret of the film: the aging white population of Rose’s family is killing black visitors and exchanging brains with them. So, the elderly white folk are inhabiting the young bodies of such people as Chris whom Rose is enchanting and bringing home to their demise.

It’s a sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with elderly white folk as the pods. The story gives director Jordan Peele an opportunity to expose white racism by putting Chris in the “special world” of the fish out of water. And by fish I mean a black man and by water I mean a sea of elderly white folk. It’s both embarrassing and embarrassingly funny to watch Rose’s family touch Chris’s hair, comment on his genetics, and praise Black celebrities (“I voted for Obama twice”).


Chris follows a good hero’s journey, being thrown into bizarre and dangerous circumstances. Unlike most hero stories, Chris receives no help; he’s totally on his own, although we can’t discount the assistance from afar from his pal Rod (LilRel Howery) back home who IDs Logan, the missing musician from Brooklyn. More than anything, Get Out is a story of survival, much like Gravity and the final act of Silence of the Lambs. The hero finds him/herself in the proverbial belly of the whale and does what it takes to basically not die.

In terms of transformation, there is certainly a series of sinister physical transformations taking place at the Armitage’s residence. Does our hero Chris transform during the story or as a result of the story? He certainly must summon up courage and resourcefulness to extricate himself from the dungeon of doom in the basement. This type of transformation in times of crisis is common in the movies (and in real life). We never see how Chris becomes a changed man in the aftermath of his ordeal, but we can infer with confidence that he’s forever changed.


With comedy and horror, story structure often gives way to shock value. Director Jordan Peele is half of the comedy duo of Key and Peele who have made a career of poking fun at racial issues. Both come from interracial families and have seen racism “from both sides, now.” Get Out is the culmination of Peele’s comedy career and with it he continues to mine racism for humor – and now horror as well.

So, it’s no surprise when no one in the movie really transforms. Chris is probably scared straight on white women – or potentially romantic relationships – for a while. He’s pretty much the same guy at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. However, the audience rose in cheers when Chris finally breaks his bonds and skewers Rose’s brother with the antlers of a stuffed deer. There was definitely some catharsis for the viewers in my theater when he transforms from prey to predator – taking out the whole family one by one.


Get Out shocked and entertained me for two hours, thanks to numerous creepy and memorable characters plus a grisly secret kept by the family whom our hero is trying to impress. The racism in the film was blunt and discomforting to a comic extent, which was probably the intent of the filmmakers. The performances by the cast were excellent and the storytelling was solid, despite the family secret defying logic from their racist perspective. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey was bold and required a fierce independent spirit for our hero Chris to survive. It is a true story of survival requiring courage, resilience, resourcefulness, and necessary brutality. My only complaint is that Chris takes a little too long to ask Rose if they could leave the house. The minute that Walter, the groundskeeper, came at Chris at full speed at 3am at night was the minute that Chris should have hightailed it home to safety. But he stayed and paid the price, thereby treating us to a horrific ordeal from which he escapes. I give his heroism 3 Hero points out of 5.

There isn’t much in the way of overt transformations in this film, other than the obvious physical mutilations carried out by Dean and Missy Armitage. As I’ve mentioned, Chris couldn’t have extricated himself from the horror of his situation without transforming mentally, emotionally, and physically. These are the types of transformation we discuss in our latest book, and they happen when real world heroes confront emergency situations. Still, we never see Chris as a changed man after his ordeal, and so I can only award 2 Transformation deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Get Out is an uncomfortably comedic horror film. It’s said there is truth in comedy.  Surely the funniest moments in the film were of white people saying stupid things in the presence of a black man. Both white folk guilty of such moments and black folk who are subject to them feel a sense of discomfort that gives rise to humor.

The image of white people taking on the bodies of black men and women may be a metaphor for white people adopting black culture: minstrels in blackface, tap dancing musicals, rock and roll music, and modern rap are all examples of how whites take on black culture and make it their own. And in so doing rob blacks of their own cultural identity. For holding up a funhouse mirror to American racial culture, I give Get Out 4 out of 5 Reels.

In the typical horror movie, the protagonist commits some social sin (say, teenagers having sex, drinking alcohol, and smoking pot). Then they go somewhere they should not be going (say, into an abandoned house). And must pay the consequences (attack by an axe wielding madman).

Chris is just such a character. He’s defied social norms by dating outside his race. He is transported to a scary mansion where he meets the evil family looking to rob him of his brain and his life. It’s not what I’d call a hero’s journey, but it is a classic horror plot. I give Chris 3 out of 5 Heroes.

As we’ve discussed, there isn’t much transformation going on in Get Out. This story isn’t so much about transforming the characters in the movie. But, perhaps, the people transformed are the viewers. We can laugh a bit at ourselves and become more aware of our latent and subtle racism. And so we can transform into more aware individuals. I give Get Out 3 out of 5 Deltas for transforming the audience.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Ghost in the Shell •••

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Shirow Masamune, Jamie Moss
Action/Crime/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: March 31, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


It’s time to review that Police album Ghost in the Machine.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it’s pretty clear you’re a Shell of your former self. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) – a woman who died but had her brain implanted in a new mechanical body – a shell. Unlike other mechanical objects (robots, for example), her brain allows her to keep her soul – her ghost. But having her ghost stored in a shell comes with a price. Mr Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) of the military organization Section 9 wants her to be a weapon – a soldier.


Major Killian is bothered by how little she knows about her past. She breaks up a terrorist attack and kills a robotic geisha in the process. In an attempt to hack the geisha, Killian finds herself hacked by the evil source of the terrorist attack, a dark entity known as Kuze (Michael Pitt). Killian’s sidekick Batou (Pilou Asbæk) is able to rescue her from the hack, but this only strengthens Killian’s and Section 9’s resolve to defeat Kuze.


Scott, Ghost in the Shell is an amazing bit of cinematography and CGI – but aside from its name, it lacks any soul. Scarlett Johansson suffers from the same problem in this film as she has in the Avengers movies and her last film Lucy – she’s emotionless. Johanson is in a strange place in this film. On the one hand, she has to act like a robot, but still have the emotions of a human. But she never finds the sweet spot between stoicism and emotion. We’re left with a dull presentation and a passionless film.


Greg, Johanssson’s emotionless portrayal worked for me here because of her backstory as a mostly cybernetic entity. For the most part, Ghost in the Shell works as a movie because it ambitiously attempts to cover a lot of philosophical and spiritual bases. The film delves into several thorny questions relating to artificial intelligence, such as (a) where one draws the line between biological and synthetic organisms; (b) when is our humanity lost once technologies operate most of our bodies; and (c) what rights do robots have in relation to biological entities. There are also numerous references to one’s “ghost” or spirit – the thing that truly makes us human and distinct. I find this to be an interesting issue.

So I enjoyed this movie’s effort to explore interesting ethical issues and for visually anticipating a futuristic urban landscape that is both daunting and jarring. Future humans are portrayed as death-averse to the extreme. People are transforming into machines, with our brains as the only thing separating us from pure robotic intelligence, and even those brains are implanted with memory chips. It’s an eerie yet realistic view of the trajectory of our society.


This movie didn’t deal with those thorny issues, though, Scott. It merely threw them on the screen as bait for the audience. Star Trek: The Next Generation actually did deal with these topics with Mr. Data – the android who was trying to be more human. But all Major really ever wrestled with was her own identity.

In this way, Major is strongly reminiscent of Jason Bourne from the Bourne movies. Her past is erased, she’s given a superbly strong body, and the skills to be the perfect soldier/weapon. If you take Bourne and drop him into the world of The Matrix – you pretty much have Ghost in the Shell.


That’s a good comparison. Killian stars in the Bourntrix. And her hero’s journey does indeed consists of her search for self identity. With regard to transformation, we see characters and society on a steady path of metamorphosis. Earlier I mentioned society’s transformation toward losing its humanity, its “soul” or ghost as this movie puts it. I would call this a physical, mental, and spiritual transformation of society. We discuss the nature of transformations in the movies in our latest book Reel Heroes & Villains.

At the individual level, we witness Killian discovering some basic truths about Section 9 and the morality of the people she works for. She also realizes that the enemy she is fighting is actually a test subject much like herself who is fighting an ethical battle to stop the exploitation of impoverished humans kidnapped for testing. Killian also uncovers the truth about herself and her past, suggesting a mental transformation. So we have a lot going on with regard to heroic self-discovery and transformation here.


I think the movie waters down its message by having so many goals at once. Major’s main issue, from the start of the movie until its end, is belonging. She feels alienated from the world as she’s the only one of her kind. Later she learns that she was part of an anarchist commune where she found a sense of family among other runaways in the “lawless zone.” Ultimately, she’s reunited with her true mother and becomes a member of what’s left of Section 9 (reminiscent of the fate of S.H.I.E.L.D from the Avengers movies). In the end she is transformed from a loner to a team player.

Ghost in the Shell is a visual marvel. The futuristic dystopian world reminded me of Blade Runner, but with amazing CGI in place of practical effects. But the movie lacked a heart and didn’t keep me interested. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

Major as played by Scarlett Johansson is dull and emotionless. We’re hardly concerned for her when she takes risks or comes close to death. It’s hard to get excited about a character who never gets excited over anything. I give her just 3 Heroes out of 5.

Ghost has too many messages to make for a coherent movie: loss of soul, need for family, need for togetherness, need for humanity, need for authentic experiences. The ultimate transformation for Major gets watered down. We hardly care that she’s found her way among her Section 9 counterparts at the film’s end. I give her transformation 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Ghost in the Shell is a highly creative and disturbing look at the future of humanity, a future in which humans are obsessed with cybernetic implants and governments corruptly use advanced human-technology hybrids to do their dirty spy work. It’s a grisly extrapolation of our current societal trends and it doesn’t bode well for the future of our human race. The story is a by-the-numbers spy thriller that is enjoyable but doesn’t quite live up to the exemplary CGI effects. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is packed full of the classic elements of the hero’s quest in myth and literature. Our hero Killian is sent on a journey that dramatically transforms her physical body. Her work in Section 9 leads to the illumination of her true identity, and she discovers who her true friends and enemies are. As befitting a good hero, Killian is transformed mentally and emotionally as she uncovers the truth about her past and the people around her. I give her heroism a total of 4 Hero points out of 5.

I’ve mentioned the many ways that Killian is transformed and how these transformations operate in parallel with the disturbing ways that our future society is transformed in this film. While these transformations are interesting and abundant, they don’t pack as much punch as they should. Perhaps the impotence of these transformation is due to their predictability and also to the understated performance of Johansson. I award these transformations a total of 3 transformation deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes: