“Ghost in the Shell” Movie Review


     When Paramount announced the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of their live action version of the popular 1995 Japanese Manga, “Ghost in the Shell”, the news caused quite a stir.  The so called “white washing” of the story’s main character led to controversy, but with the new film now in theaters, it’s best to realize it is what it is and judge the film on its own merits.  That being said, director Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) does an admirable job with the source material, but the live action when compared to anime brings with it a number of issues, namely the inescapable similarities to classic films such as “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix”.  

     “Ghost in the Shell” begins by immersing the audience in a futuristic Japan where technology has advanced far enough in the area of robotics that humans can choose to enhance themselves in much the same way people use plastic surgery today.  Tactical eye sight, metal arms and legs, and data terminals installed behind your neck are just some of the improvements the various characters are sporting.  The world has progressed to the point where the characters actually have to ask each other if they are human.  In addition, a robotics company has recently made a significant breakthrough in which a human brain has successfully been transplanted into a one hundred percent synthetic body, giving new meaning to the term “cyborg” and the benefit of both the cognitive and leadership abilities of a human and the superior physical attributes of a robot.  

     Given the name Major (Scarlett Johansson), the one of a kind creation is assigned to an elite anti terrorism unit that specializes in high end cyber crime, an obvious problem within the city they live in.  Along with her robotically enhanced co-workers, Major is attempting to hunt down a mysterious hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is systematically stealing data and eliminating those responsible for the ground breaking robotics program.  Essentially, the program’s leader, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) describes one’s soul as their “ghost” and the synthetic body as the “shell”, of course giving the film its title, but also allowing the audience to grasp the frame of mind in which the characters are operating.  The story plays like a sometimes slow moving detective thriller, placing Major and her team in a number of situations requiring the usual action film gun play and martial arts mayhem.

     And though Sanders clearly excels in the execution of these scenes, Johansson isn’t given anything to do that stands out, with every action set piece conjuring thoughts of Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” films, Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix” films, or even Angela Jolie in the “Lara Croft” films.  In other words, we’ve seen all of this before in much better films and with significantly more developed characters.  For all the hype the marriage of a human brain and a synthetic body was supposed to generate, Johansson’s Major displays little emotion throughout, functioning more like Arnold’s “Terminator” minus the funny one liners.  There is in fact no laughter to be had as the script by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger is void of anything that qualifies as fun or lighthearted.  None of this is helped by the constantly overused cityscapes, which because of their Asian theme, immediately warrants comparison to the very same sets Rick Deckard hunted Replicants in way back in 1982.  Thank goodness the filmmakers decided to leave out the rain, but doing only brings another film to mind as the night time sky line will remind you of Coruscant from the “Star Wars” prequels.

     The rest of the cast does what is asked of them.  Pilou Asbaek’s Batou provides the muscle behind the operation and Takeshi Kitano’s Aramaki supervises the anti terrorism unit and is given several notable scenes that allow his character to shine.  The overall production design, particularly the interiors of the various night clubs, robotics labs, living quarters, and automobiles , enhances the film and demonstrates a number of thoughtful creative elements that tie directly into the plot.  This results in a film that is clearly nice to look at, but doesn’t pack the emotional punch necessary to propel the lead character beyond the ordinary. GRADE: C