Review: In a futuristic Blade Runner-esque city – cramped with neon-blaring buildings and hologramscapes – multi-national/multi-racial humans and humanoid androids mingle and blend in together. A cybernetic counter-terrorist operative, The Major (Scarlett Johansson) – naked in prosthetic and occasionally stealth-camouflaged – along with her Section 9 comrades, hunt down a silhouetted cyber villain, Kuze (Michael Pitt with Carmen middle name). During her mission, truth about her identity begins to unravel and distract her from her operation.
There’s no real ghost or seashells in Ghost in the Shell. The title refers to Johansson’s Major – a consciousness or ‘ghost’ (like in Holy Ghost) from a woman she used to be which is implanted to a cybernetic ‘shell.’ Physically, she’s more of a machine than human; but, her ‘ghost’ is what makes her ‘human.’ In a world where the line between human and machine is independently blurred, people start losing their identity. And, that alone should’ve been a big theme to probe in; and yet, this film consciously takes that for granted.
Rupert Sanders, working on subtext-heavy and flaunty script (by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger), tends to exhibit his prowess in world-building and occasionally shows off some cyberpunk action sequences. Instead of delving into the ‘human-machine identity crisis’, Ghost in the Shells loves to present tech-heavy set-pieces (e.g., those nape sockets, wire-assisted brain-hacking, assisted telepathic comms, stealth camouflage, memory tracing process called “Deep Dive”, etc) in some familiar ways. You’re not wrong if you think those elements looks as if they’re collectibles from other films, which are actually borrowed from Mamoru Oshii’s manga-adapted anime Ghost in the Shell (I’m looking at you Wachowskis, Cameron & Spielberg!). And, there’s where the film’s CGI-fest visual spectacles spoil audiences’ eyes (although not in ‘awestruck level’).
Those details might help you sticking with Ghost in the Shell since the plot isn’t as engaging as the visuals. The plot isn’t action-heavy as it has whodunit elements dominating the whole narrative, putting aside the ‘different mind occupying different body’ drama. I personally expected that this prolonged whodunit story was merely a catalyst to Major’s identity crisis, which ends up as a mere gimmick. While that gimmick serves its purpose as a drive to the surprisingly shallow story, I see almost no ‘ghost’ in those shells.
Despite being adapted from a manga with inventive action sequences, Ghost in the Shell surprisingly lacks of grits. The Major is said to be a highly-skilled mercenary, but the action sequences are pretty basic and unconvincing. Honestly, we have seen Scarlett Johansson served femme fatale roles (like as Black Widow or Lucy) more convincingly even without cybernetic body and camouflage ability. Only if you’re up to slo-mo fest, then it might deserve the nods; if not, then you’ll have to watch more ‘shells’ wasted, including bullet shells.
I don’t know how to address the sensitive whitewashing issue; but, the film seems to justify this issue with diverse cast and multi-national utopian world setting. Major’s Section 9 comrades contributes more to the diversity with fascinating characters like mechanic-eyed Batou (Pilou Asbæk), 80s-triad-inspired mullet guy, Togusa (Chin Han), and Chief Aramaki (Japanese legend, Takeshi Kitano). While the controversy centers on Johansson’s character, the film’s theme adds up with this ‘creative decision’ about implanted mind. Still, I would always think that Rink Kikuchi deserves this role through and through.
Let me put it into a final verdict: Ghost in the Shell, despite its delighting cyberpunk visuals, suffers from unconvincing action and shallow storyline. It wastes too many shells and embraces too little ‘ghost.’
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Action, Crime, Adaptation Directed by: Rupert Sanders Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler Starred by: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt Runtime: 107 mins Rated PG-13