Review: Ghost in the Shell
Directed by Rupert Sanders
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Rupert Sanders, Ghost in the Shell (2017) stars Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han and Juliette Binoche. This remake of the 1995 anime film has Johansson playing a woman with a human brain inside a synthetic, cybernetic body, living in a future where the line of human and robot is blurred, and so is her own sense of self in this world.
I have never seen anything in the Ghost in the Shell franchise. I understand its huge popularity and influence on science fiction and the anime genre, but I’ve just never got around to seeing it. So to see this live-action adaptation was a completely fresh experience.
I have heard that the original film, while heavy on plot, is subtle and beautiful in its treatment of the ideas of what the difference is between human and robot. Ghost in the Shell (2017) is everything that film isn’t. This movie is dull and heavy-handed, with the only beauty being on the surface.
I’m sorry to be so blunt, but Ghost in the Shell (2017) is just middle-ground, instead of anything exceptionally unique or creatively challenging in this world of sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes. Ghost in the Shell (2017) boasts wonderful visual landscapes, and great production design by Jan Roelfs and cinematography by Jess Hall, but all of this is either just in the first two-thirds of the movie, or feel like copies from other, more unique sci-fi films like Blade Runner, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and even Tron: Legacy.
I understand that the original Ghost in the Shell film heavily inspired the Wachowskis to make The Matrix, thus creating cyberpunk, and that level of influence should be a challenge this remake should overcome. Ghost in the Shell (2017) could have shown something completely new, taking that legacy and building a great piece of science-fiction that challenges an audience. But it seems like the movie just settles for being “good enough” or just like many, many other sci-fi dystopian films.
Scarlett Johansson gives a decent performance as The Major, playing a non-emotional, synthetic character with enough heart and charm to make her interesting enough. But her character feels poorly used, lumbering from set piece to set piece without any connection other than “fans will know this because it was in the original”. The best characters in Ghost in the Shell (2017) were in fact Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Chief Daisuke. Though Batou never really has any great big moment, and Daisuke confusingly only speaks in Japanese while EVERYONE else speaks English (why not make everyone speak one or the other?), both actors give their characters some badass presence and personality, well beyond what is written. If a sequel comes, I want it all about Batou.
Like many of the failed experiments before The Major, Ghost in the Shell (2017) looks dazzling on the surface, but inside it’s just a hot mess of muddled plot threads, sub-par editing, effects that look 2002-level bad in the third act, and just generally mediocre execution. I enjoyed the characters and the world that this movie takes place in, and Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a shoe-in for Oscar noms for production design and cinematography, but it lacks consistency, originality and energy.