Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell
PG-13 | 1h 47min
Director: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano
by Jason Koenigsberg
Everything was there. The blueprint for the next great science fiction extravaganza, the big budget, the talented international cast led by a huge star. How did Ghost in the Shell go so wrong?
For starters the Hollywood whitewashing of the lead role spawned controversy before even a single shot was filmed. Scarlett Johansson is a beautiful and talented actress but was a controversial choice to play the title character. However, even though most people assumed she was Japanese in the original animated movie from 1995, the character is supposed to be non-ethnic and just represent a generic female, plus Ms. Johansson is talented enough to pull it off so that was not really something that detracted from the final product. The studio manipulation and sanitization of such a complex and violent future world the original presented is only a shell (pun intended) of what is onscreen in the new version.
The opening shot we see some doctors wearing red wheeling a a body on a gurney. This takes us right into the opening credits montage where we see machines create the android that becomes Scarlett Johansson. Unlike the original anime there is no nudity in this sequence, just a lot of overkill with the CGI effects and some clever censoring.
Once the action gets going the plot is basically a carbon copy of the original only with bloodless violence which made everything senseless because there were no consequences to the violent actions. There is a lot of violence on display in Ghost in the Shell but the PG-13 nature of it all kills any dramatic or emotional impact the action was meant to have. Also, the bloodless violence was not the only aspect of this Americanized excuse to make money. The frustratingly censored nude scenes made everything seem more comical and distracting than it should have. Instead of focusing on the action, it looked like nude Barbie and Ken were transported and fighting in The Matrix (1999).
The only good aspect of Ghost in the Shell was Clint Mansell’s ominous futuristic score which fits appropriately. It is just a shame that the visuals were so generic. The plot and the acting really take a back seat and do not matter in this movie. Only the set design and visual effects have any significance and that is obviously all the filmmakers cared about. Themes of identity and what it means to be human are squandered.
Perhaps that is not the worst thing in the world since there have already been outstanding science fiction films that deal with those topics. The original Japanese import Ghost in the Shell (1995) is one of the most important and influential animated films of all time. This new remake recalls the original as well as many other science fiction milestones such as Robocop (1987), the Terminator movies, and Under the Skin (2014) which featured one of Scarlett Johansson’s bravest performances. The anime Ghost in the Shell had a heavy influence on The Matrix, but now the tables have turned and this remake feels more like one of the many poor mans Matrix clones we saw in the wake of that films popularity. Possibly even a greater influence on this remake is Blade Runner (1982) with its heavy influence on the sets, lighting and wide shots of futuristic cityscapes.
That is all The Ghost in the Shell of 2017 is, a collection of ideas and images from other, better science fiction works. It offers nothing new, memorable or particularly interesting to make it worth recommending. You are much better off going outside to enjoy the beautiful spring weather, but if you have to see a movie, stay at home and watch any of the films mentioned above in this review, the original Ghost in the Shell in particular.
I’ll leave you now with a quote from film critic Soren Anderson of The Seattle Times, “It’s somehow only fitting that with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, Ghost in the Shell leaves you with the feeling that something has been lost in translation.” Below is the trailer for Lost in Translation, one of the best films of 2003 and the movie that helped launch Scarlett Johansson’s career as a mature actress.
Ms. Johansson’s first little cinematic trip to Japan was much more interesting than all the special effects of her latest explosion filled studio bonanza. Check out Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation if you have not seen it.