GHOST IN THE SHELL 3.5 out of 10; Directed by Rupert Sanders; Written by Jamie Moss; Starring Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbaek and Michael Pitt; Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images; Running time 106 minutes; In wide release March 31, 2017.
The original Ghost in the Shell is a benchmark in Japanese animation. Taking its cues from Akira that came before, Ghost continued the trend of going to new levels of excellence in animation and into a world that no one could have imagined. It and its manga (essentially Japanese graphic novels) have influenced nearly every science fiction film of the last 30 years, so it was exciting to think what we would finally get to see on the big screen. The result, while beautifully shot and filmed, is but a pale imitation of what it should have been and is an intensely cold and shallow film.
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a new breed of cyborg – an artificial body (shell) controlled by a living person’s mind (ghost). Drafted into a risky experiment after a terrorist attack, Major awakens from death to find herself in a body she doesn’t know and into a world she can’t understand. A year later, she is now the perfect weapon and routinely and easily takes out thugs, terrorists and other threats to Tokyo. During the middle of an op, she discovers that a rogue known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt) is using cyborgs to hack into the minds of and kill the scientists of the Hanka Robotics corporation, the same one that brought her back to life. As she and her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) track him down, they are led deeper into a spiraling conspiracy that will have Major questioning reality and everything she has ever known.
Gorgeously shot, Ghost in the Shell manages to do the impossible and truly bring an anime to life. Scenes are crafted with the greatest care that gives the whole thing a gritty, dreamlike and nightmarish feeling that hits every high note from the source material. Iconic moments are perfectly recreated while the disturbing imagery will have people wincing. Despite being a PG-13 film, this pushes the boundaries of the rating and gets away with more than expected.
But much like a Fabergé egg, the glitter and shine is superficial and falls apart if the outside is cracked open.
Originally, Ghost in the Shell had layers that audiences could mine to find insights on humanity, religion and philosophy. This version is simply an excuse to have an extremely attractive woman whirl around in a skintight suit and shoot people in the face. There is no subtlety or intrigue, just excessive action superimposed on dry dialogue that is meant to sound smart but smacks of pop culture.
Not to mention how in love it is with its mythology. The middle is so long and drawn out that even fans will find themselves yawning and waiting for it to be over. For a film that runs barely over an hour and half, it felt like the epic it isn’t.
And then there’s the whitewashing issue. Already problematic for casting a Caucasian woman in the role of an Asian character, that isn’t its biggest problem. The worst was that the one character who speaks Japanese, Major’s boss, Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), is constantly spoken down to by the white characters, and even Major who refuses to talk with him in his language. Throw in a sympathetic character speaking broken English just to make a scene more emotional as well as literally turning multiple Asian characters Caucasian, and it moves from annoying to disgusting.
So, while this easily could have been one of the most groundbreaking and riveting movies of the year, it is too beset by problems that would have kept a film with a lesser pedigree from ever being made. Yes, it’s one of the best-looking things out there, and the filmmakers deserve a modicum of credit for attempting it, but that doesn’t excuse its multitude of flaws. Rewatch the anime or go see Get Out, Logan, Power Rangers or any of the other great films out right now that are either masterpieces or just a lot of fun.
3.5 out of 10