By Ryan Keating-Lambert
The live-action adaptation of the cult anime Ghost in the Shell is probably one of the most visually perfect films to grace our screens so far this year. It’s great to have some cyber punk to sink our teeth into again, but its poor attempts at provoking emotional responses and philosophical debate bring it down to your standard 3-star action film.
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a human-robot hybrid engineered for dangerous combat missions – a ‘ghost in a shell’. After witnessing an unusual crime involving a reprogrammed geisha robot killing one of the top scientists of Hanka robotics, Major and her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) begin to investigate a possible conspiracy within the corporation.
There’s a lot to be said for this film. Firstly, it’s visually stunning. The cyber punk art direction is very Blade Runner, and truly mesmerising. You get the sense that nothing is really as it seems to be. Absolutely everything is modified or ‘enhanced’ as they say in the film. CGI is really hit or miss these days, and this is some expensive work. On top of that, the sets are intricately decorated. The attention to detail is just insane.
Unlike other big budget action movies, aside from perhaps the John Wick franchise, Ghost in the Shell utilises framing and mise-en-scene rather than just blowing stuff up with cheap CGI. There are some beautiful shots, especially in the scene with Major chasing after the hacked rubbish collector.
For all of its beauty and poise, it seems that director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) has forgotten all about the importance of dialogue, which is essential in science fiction films of this nature. Not to suggest that this film doesn’t focus on plot… it does. There’s ample time and opportunity for deep discussion and pondering, but its never really taken advantage of. This film doesn’t even really rely on action, but on common sci-fi philosophies.
Themes of identity, memory; questions like ‘what is it to be human?’ have come up multiple times throughout the reign of the sci-fi film – just look at classics like Blade Runner, The Terminator, Dark City or The Matrix. Unfortunately though, these films relied on dialogue, but also lack of dialogue – meaning subtleties, they trusted the audience to think for themselves, something that films nowadays rarely do.
The amateur and dumbed-down script for Ghost in the Shell is full of sentimental one liners and cheesy monologues, and it’s made worse by mediocre acting. Johansson looked lost between human and robot, which is of course the nature of her character, but there were times when a little emotion would have gone a long way. Even Juliette Binoche, a seasoned actress, was a bit off as Hanka scientist and Major sympathiser Dr Ouelet. Villain hacker Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt) was probably the highlight of the film. His character was well-written and his pain was real. The glitching of his voice was also a nice touch. Despite Johansson being rather bland, the scenes with the two of them were easily the most powerful and memorable.
And then, there’s the whitewashing. The media has been pointing a stern finger at the film since pre-production, and for good reason. The original 1995 Ghost in the Shell was a Japanese anime film, which forces us to ask the question – why on earth is Johansson even there? Obviously because she’s a sex symbol, and she’ll sell a hell of a lot of tickets. This opening weekend is going to be huge. Still, not a smart move, and that’s what brings this movie down a bit more.
The film does try to be deep and somewhat inclusive though. There are characters from a range of different countries and backgrounds, including Japanese characters. Johansson is also more masculine, and more of a Lisbeth Salander figure than the sexy ‘Black Widow’ that she plays in The Avengers. Even her walk is masculine. A step forward? Yes. A big one? No.
BUT, this is still a film worth seeing because there really are some thought-provoking ideologies, plus truly wonderful cyber punk visuals… it’s just that the direction isn’t there, which is kind of important! The Wachowski’s (for obvious reasons) would have been a better choice for this. Fans of the original will also get a kick out of it, but go in with an open mind.
Photo: Screen Rant