GHOST IN THE SHELL Review: 6 out of 10 (Sigh-berpunk)
GHOST IN THE SHELL is a sci-fi dystopian crime film directed by Rupert Sanders and based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. The film stars Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han and Juliette Binoche.
In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: saved from a terrible crash, she is cyber-enhanced by the Hanka Robotics Corporation to become a perfect cybernetic soldier. Put on a task force named "Section 9" she and her team are devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous hackers, terrorists, and criminals. When she and her new team face a new hacker threat called Kuze (Michael Pitt), it seems that there are revelations that Major has not been aware of. She soon discovers that she has been lied to, and will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Pilou Asbæk (GAME OF THRONES) is Batou, Major's partner, and is certainly one of the best things in the film. Since Major is less human/more A.I., her character seems less compelling here--necessarily so. It is her distance and artificiality that is the conflict in her character. However, Batou's grit and determination are easily the most fun this story offers.
It sounds more complicated than it is. The story is fairly basic--a hacker is threatening a corporation but holds truths that will ultimately bring down the giant conglomerate and have the heroes turn on their employers. GHOST also follows all the rules of "Movie Hacker 101" including:
- Hackers can always hack systems that are unhackable
- Hackers don't need to 'splain how they hack...they just hack.
- Hackers are super smart, but always seem to be traced back to "their source."
- When traced back to "their source" hackers have set a trap for those tracing them.
In the end, GHOST IN THE SHELL is a pretty fundamental crime story set in a beautiful cyberpunk world full of holograms, costumes, and plenty of neon. The film is nearly self-aware of this, seeming to preen for its audience the building-size adverts and human holograms the size of a Godzilla. The emptiness of world is emphasized by the overpopulated commercialism of its surroundings. Unfortunately, except for Batou and a few others on the Section 9 task force, the film is equally empty. It is difficult to connect and offer empathy for Major, since she can't seem to figure out what all the rest of us have in the first 10 minutes of the film. She is being duped...used...and no one who knows seems to care. By the time they do, the end seems as hollow as the world itself.
This is a film that has already faced criticism for "whitewashing" the original source material. However, most of those closest to the original (including the director of the 1995 anime film) differ on this.
"The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name 'Motoko Kusanagi' and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her."
So, since the body of Major is artificial and can be manufactured--it knows no race. It is a sort of generic template. However, interesting that the template happens to look like ScarJo...but I digress.
There is a beauty to GHOST IN THE SHELL. A film that seems one part BLADE RUNNER and one part LA FEMME NIKITA. But with Major being a fairly flat and unemotional A.I. supercop, she isn't the most interesting character to get behind. ScarJo is great here with the action setpieces, and likely makes the strongest argument to Disney/Marvel that they have missed the boat on a Black Widow movie. Having not seen the original source material or the anime adaptation, I would argue that the movie *feels* like it is trying to offer homage to it. There are several scenes that look like they have been ripped off of a manga page and even several action sequences that have that frenetic anime feel. Having said that, I am sure fans will be divided on whether GHOST IN THE SHELL is an accurate adaptation. But for casual filmgoers looking for sci-fi action, it is fine, but nothing much new to see here. But what you do see is pretty eyepopping. Just don't expect a compelling story to go alongside it. Despite the mesmerizing visuals of this world, the neon colors and the rest of the memory of even seeing this movie will likely wash off of my brain by next week.