Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell
Release Date: March 31st, 2017
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche
Ghost in the Shell is an adaptation of a 1995 anime film, which is in itself an adaptation of a manga series that ran from 1989-96. It envisions a cyberpunk future where the line between man and machine has become blurred, as robots and AI are used everywhere, and almost everyone has some form of cybernetic enhancement.
In the live-action film, Major Mira Killian (Johansson) is the first of a new form of cyborg: a human brain completely encased in a robotic body. Killian is the only survivor of a cyberterrorist attack, her body beyond repair but her brain saved and inserted into a new robotic body by Hanka Robotics' designer Dr. Ouelet (Binoche). Not long after her creation, she is trained in combat and assigned to anti-terrorist group, Section 9. A cyberterrorist known as Kuze has been targeting Hanka employees by remotely hacking robots or altering the memories and controlling individuals by corrupting their cybernetic enhancements. Killian and her team try to track Kuze down before he can successfully finish off his list of victims. Meanwhile, Killian has been suffering "glitches," which appear as hallucinations, which begin to bother her more and more and she dives deeper into the mystery of this terrorist.
This film takes a stupid approach to a smart property. It's been years since I've seen the original movie, but I do recall some extensive philosophical discussion on the nature of humanity and artificiality and what it means to be human, told among compelling characters, creative action sequences, and gorgeously animated backdrops. While this live-action film is visually stunning, it seems to have dropped a lot of the ambiguity and philosophy of the original for a straight-forward Hollywood "amnesia" plot, and left any subtly out the window. For example, it only takes a few minutes until the movie's title is quickly explained, and then continuously re-explained in case the writers didn't think audiences would get it ("THE GHOST IS YOUR SOUL! THAT'S THE GHOST, GET IT? IT'S IN THE DAMN SHELL. THE SHELL IS A ROBOT. LOOK, IT'S SCARLETT JOHANSSON HALF-NAKED.").
While the plot surrounding the identification and capture of Kuze pushes the film forward, it's the mystery of Killian's former life where the movie aims most of its focus. Who was she before this? What happened to her family? What is she now, woman or machine? These questions take center stage, and they eventually meet up with the Kuze storyline for an almost too-clean resolution. By the end there's some epiphanies and conspiracies and a tightly-knit resolution that fits these sort of uninspired action films, and instead of a potentially creative plot, we are left with a Jason Bourne-amnesia story recycled with cybernetics. The film is stripped of what could have made it special and instead becomes boring and predictable. It feels like it should be moving at a frenetic pace, but it sort of plods along on itself with very little direction, while action-movie character cliches mug and emote alongside Scarlett Johansson's reserved and often emotionless Killian.
Don't take that as an insult against Johansson. Her take on the character is fairly nuanced, and as always she's a star who can carry an entire film by herself. It's the limited script and odd direction that fails her (as well as the constant need to show her half-naked or undressing every few minutes). She's not alone: other stand-outs include Pilou Asbæk as the gruff but supportive Batou and Michael Pitt as the incredibly bizarre and completely engrossing Kuze. That being said, several other actors are nearly non-entities, or are there to fill the roles of "Movie Villain 1."
Two scenes I do remember from the original movie include the fight in the shallow water that the Major has while using her invisibility tech, and her battle at the very end of the film with the walking tank. Both scenes are recreated here in the movie, the latter (called a "spider-tank") simultaneously bringing to mind a video game final boss and the producer that was famously obsessed with putting giant spiders in his films. Either way, they're entertaining scenes, and a nice nod to the original, but unfortunately they don't make up for the rest of the film's flaws.
Ghost in the Shell is ultimately another one of those sad films that will come and go with little attention. It's immemorable; a commercial came on TV a few days after my viewing, and I thought "Oh yeah, I saw that movie already didn't I?" If there are plans for a sequel or, heavens forbid, a franchise, I don't think it will happen, and the film certainly acts self-contained (a rarity in this day and age). I'm not sure what hardcore anime fans will think when it's compared to the original, but I don't think it's bad enough to actively hate. It's just kind of there. So no, I can't really recommend this, but if you're curious it might be worth a rental or a Netflix/Hulu/Amazon stream later on.