Ghost in The Shell

Jacob Richardson | 03/04/2017

Despite it’s mixed race cast and visual accomplishments, this lacklustre remake of the 1995 anime feels tonally, morally and creatively wrong.

Set in the near future, Scarlett Johansson plays Major – a human brain and soul in an android body. After she was saved from a terrible crash, scientists cyber-enhanced her to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous terrorists. On her most recent mission, however, she runs afoul of Kuze (Michael Pitt), and discovers that not all is as it seems.


Rupert Sanders brings us this version of Ghost In The Shell, and his stylish fingerprints are all over it. Needless to say, this film possesses much of the same visual flair of his last piece, Snow White and The Huntsman. It really is beautifully shot, with a neo-Tokyo resplendent with holograms and with set design and costume design off the charts in terms of creativity. However, it also carries many of the failings of Snow White too – specifically with respect to character and plot. In fact, the film is even more devoid of interesting, human characters than Sanders' previous effort.


Johansson brings an interesting take to her Major. She is lithe and graceful in action, but walks around with her head hanging down and her footfalls like leaden weights. It’s an interesting performance, and seems to be based on Majors' own feeling of alienation in this humanoid shell. It is a shame, therefore, that the script so necessitates her parcelling out character development in narration. There is no empathy or sympathy for a character like this when Sanders insists on shovelling exposition down our throats. The slow burn, intelligent-audience-assuming expository pacing of something like Midnight Special is sorely lacking. Instead, we are told by narrator Major when we should feel for her, why we should feel for her and who we should hate. It drives the story to the edge of toothlessness, and makes for a disengaging, underwhelming film.


She is a veritable treasure trove of character development compared to the rest of her compatriots though. Juliet Binoche’s maternal scientist Dr. Ouelet and Michael Pitt’s Kuze are thinly veiled silhouettes, while Takeshi Kitano’s Aramaki and Chin Han’s Han barely make any impression at all. Villainous Cutter (Peter Ferdinando, looking remarkably like a young Liam Neeson) seems irrationally hell bent on destruction – an antagonist for whom backstory would be too much of a chore.


The only redeeming character is Batou. Pilou Asbaek’s portrayal brings a light and warmth to the picture that is sorely needed, and his wisecracking, big brother-esque dynamic with Major is something that would actually be exciting to explore in future instalments.


The original anime inspired multiple films that today are deemed classics (Blade Runner, The Matrix, etc.). So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Ghost In The Shell feels incredibly derivative. That doesn’t give the cinema-goer any comfort though; instead leaving us with a breathlessly empty picture that fails on both a plot and a character level.


Only the visuals save the film from obscurity, because if Sanders excels at anything (and it’s questionable, at this point, whether he does), it is creating a hyper-stylized world. This near future is indeed that, and gives one the perspective of what Blade Runner or Fifth Element might look like with today's technological capability.


Stunning visuals can’t save this derivative, thinly-plotted movie. Ghost In The Shell loses all the heart and intrigue of the original anime, serving up the same old Hollywood story in a culturally-appropriating new way that leaves the film as empty and dehumanized as Major fears her cybernetic shell is.