Film Review: “Ghost in the Shell”
2.5 out of 5 stars
After nearly 20 years, the live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga has finally arrived in the form of the blockbuster “Ghost in the Shell” directed by Rupert Sanders.
Starring Scarlett Johansson as the Major, the film draws heavily from its 1995 animated predecessor. The movie made headlines before filming had even started when Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, was cast as Motoko Kusanagi aka the Major, a Japanese character in the latest bout of Hollywood whitewashing. While the film addresses the issue head-on in a subplot about the Major’s backstory, it still proves to be symptomatic of a larger issue plaguing Hollywood.
The greatest strengths of this film lie in its sense of visual spectacle and a strong performance from a disaffected Johansson.
On its own, the film works as mindless sci-fi action. It’s a generic plot with ‘we’ve seen it all before’ elements of philosophy about what it means to be a human being. The greatest strengths of this film lie in its sense of visual spectacle and a strong performance from a disaffected Johansson. From the futuristic Tokyo setting featuring building-sized hologram advertisements to the slick, slow motion ass-kickings brought on by the Major, the film certainly knows how to look the part. Where it fails is everywhere else.
The film takes place in a future Tokyo where human cybernetic enhancement is the norm. The Major represents the next step in this technological evolution. She is the first fully cybernetic person; an artificial body with a human brain. An agent for Section Nine, she is tasked with hunting down the mysterious Kuze (Michael Pitt), the film’s initial antagonist.
Sprinkled into the story are subplots and characters absent from the original. The Major’s backstory is expanded upon in a tedious and predictable manner that includes a convoluted and unnecessary justification of casting a white woman as the protagonist of a Japanese property. As a result, these generic characters and plot elements bring the film down to forgettable, run-of-the-mill sci-fi levels. Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) is the most egregious example of this. Responsible for the Major’s very existence, she takes on a quasi-motherly role that later finds itself resolved in a painfully predictable manner. The attempt at an emotional backstory for the Major largely falls flat.
An inability to stick with a villain finds the film stumbling across the finish line to a bland and predictable conclusion.
An inability to stick with a villain also finds the film stumbling across the finish line to a bland and predictable conclusion. Initially focused on Kuze, the film ditches his arc in favor of a more tired, corporate corruption angle that comes complete with a generic, one-dimensional bad guy motivated by greed.
While the original is not some sacred text on the ruminations of humanity’s relationship with technology, it actually succeeds in posing complex and interesting questions. Jamie Moss’ screenplay ditches all of that in favor spoon-feeding the audience exposition and added backstory elements intended to add emotional resonance, ultimately bogging it down and turning an otherwise interesting concept into a bland copy of numerous other sci-fi classics.
I cannot recommend this film to sci-fi purists or die-hard fans of the original, but for anyone looking to kill 107 minutes on a rainy day, you could definitely do worse.