The Good: Beautifully-directed, Moments of theme, Last quarter of the film
The Bad: Mediocre acting, Characters who are tough to empathize with, Packed and distracting setting with little emotional connection, Erratic plot development
The Basics: Ghost In The Shell creates a vivid setting, but invests far less on compelling plot and character development, making it a very tough sell for science fiction fans.
I have quite a few genre interests, but the truth is that anime has never been one of my interests. Anime and Cyberpunk have just never had the spark that makes me want to invest completely in the mediums and genres. Despite that, today I decided to watch Ghost In The Shell. When Ghost In The Shell was released many fans of the original anime were offended by the fact that Scarlett Johansson was cast in the lead role of Major. Having no attachment to the source material, that did not bother me.
It is worth noting that going into Ghost In The Shell, I had no prior knowledge of the film's universe, story or characters. As such, this is an ideal review for laypeople who want to know about the movie without an endless series of comparisons to the anime.
In the future, Hanka Robotics is building a military operative with a human brain in a synthetic body - a distinct upgrade from the typical human who is simply augmented by cybernetic technology. Major awakens from a drowning during a terrorist attack inside a synthetic body. Hanka's CEO, Cutter, tells Major's doctor - Ouelet - that he wants Major to join Section 9 and return to work. A year later, Major monitors a Hanka Robotics executive's meeting with the President of the African Federation when the meeting is attacked and everyone she is surveilling is killed. Major's synthetic body is damaged in the process and she returns to the Department Of Defense the next day for a briefing. Osmond was not the only Hanka executive killed the day before and Major and her partner, Batao, go to see Ouelet. Ouelet believes that Major's hallucinations are past sensory data that is processing and she tries to alleviate Major's concerns while she repairs Major's damaged arm. To try to find out where Kuze, the assassin, is, Major volunteers to hack into the murderous geishabot that killed Osmond.
Major is externally hacked during her connection to the geisha, but she completes the process certain she knows where Kuze is. Major and Batao go to a nightclub Kuze is supposed to be at, but they fall into a trap which results in Batao losing his eyes. After Batao is enhanced with new eyes, Dr. Dahlin is killed and Major discovers that the assassin is targeting scientists who worked on a secret project, 2571. The only member of that team still alive is Ouelet and an attempt is made on her life that Major and Batao are able to stop. Section 9 captures the would-be killer and Major finds out Kuze's location from him before he kills himself. Following the next lead, Major learns the truth about Kuze, who was an earlier iteration of the project that created Major. Learning the truths about the project and her own existence leaves Major with an existential crisis and she become targeted by Hanka security.
Ghost In The Shell is a very typical action-adventure conspiracy thriller where the real twist is simply the setting. Every machine in the world is vulnerable to hacking and it seems that Kuze has developed technology that allows humans to be hacked. As a result, everything in Ghost In The Shell is very dirty and carries an undertone of danger to it. The world of Ghost In The Shell is grungy and very uninviting; it is a setting it is hard to imagine living, breathing, humans in.
That said, director Rupert Sanders does an excellent job of creating a very packed setting. Throughout the city of Ghost In The Shell there are massive holograms and there are all sorts of people and droids moving about. Ghost In The Shell is a visually-packed film and Sanders does a decent job of fleshing out the setting to make the dark, filthy world seem very distinct. For all my problems with Ghost In The Shell, the film is beautifully-shot and well-directed.
Despite the technical accomplishments, Ghost In The Shell is so off-putting that it is tough to invest in. The film allows Scarlett Johansson to play completely stiff and passionless and the reason for her ability to act in that fashion only becomes evident in the film's very late portions. That, sadly, is one of the real issues with Ghost In The Shell; an objective viewer will sit through the first three-quarters of the film wondering just why a human brain in an inorganic body would result in such a forced, stiff performance.
As a result, for the bulk of Ghost In The Shell, I found myself more bored than I was intrigued or even entertained. When a viewer sits more amused by how incredibly well Takeshi Kitano fills a niche that Martin Sheen would occupy in an American film than by the plot and characters, there is something seriously lacking in the film. In the case of Ghost In The Shell it is the characters.
Ultimately, Ghost In The Shell is about a woman who has no idea who she is . . . because she has no clue that her identity is not her own. Films with amnesiac characters can be pulled off exceptionally well - Dark City (reviewed here!) leaps instantly to mind - but Ghost In The Shell goes far too long before revealing that Major is not who she thinks she is and it does not satisfactorily explore the speed at which her programming degrades. It seems like Major knows who she is for so long, is told something different and then is rather suddenly not a law enforcement operative at all.
Despite not being overly grabbed by the characters or the pretty generic scientific/government conspiracy plot, Ghost In The Shell executes well the cautionary tale that fans of the original Star Trek will find both enjoyable and familiar; technology is a tool, not our friend. Gene Roddenberry's stories were often obsessively focused on the idea that dependence upon technology will ultimately undermine humanity and that humanity risks becoming enslaved by it. Ghost In The Shell gets around to making a very compelling argument that identity and humanity are dangerously close to becoming lost to corporations whose primary concerns are profit and development. Unfortunately, but the time it does, it is hard to actually care.
For other works with cyborgs and replicants, please check out my reviews of:
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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