Review: “Ghost in a Shell”
I was excited for this movie. I am a huge fan of anime and while not intimately familiar with this particular one, I always like to see what live action will bring to the narrative. Unfortunately, this one failed to keep me engaged and while there was some pretty scenes, the plot didn’t dig into the themes as much as I wanted.
“Ghost in the Shell” stars Scarlett Johansson as Major, a human mind that has been transferred into a synthetic shell. She is told that she is the lone survivor of a terrorist attack and is sent to work with Division 9, an arm of the Department of Defense. One year later, she and her team, including her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk), are hunting down a terrorist, Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt) who is hacking the minds of Hanko scientists and killing them, the same company that gave Major her synthetic body. In the course of her hunt, Major discovers that the company also created Kuze and must discover the truth of her existence.
I loved the cinematography and the special effects. There are some gorgeous scenes, including one underwater scene that while failing to move the plot along, is very pretty. I totally loved the scene where she is diving into the memories of a robot. Some of the flashing lights might cause issues to some viewers so be warned. The technology explored in the film is quite interesting and I loved the mind link shown in the movie as well as showing the effects of some of the technology like Batou’s eyes, even if the eyes themselves are a bit strange.
The action scenes were well shot and well-choreographed, keeping my attention during the fight sequences. Scarlett Johansson did a good job with her role, helping us to increasingly empathize with her character. In the beginning, she was very purposeful and to the point in her acting but the emotions build throughout the film. I also felt there was a real warmth and humor to how Pilou Asbæk portrayed Batou and he was probably the most engaging of the secondary characters.
That’s some of what I liked but the plot is where the movie lost me. While the story gives us the illusion that it is going to explore more existential drama, such as what it means to be human and what remains of our soul if our body is gone, mentioning the ghost as the soul at the beginning of the movie, instead delves into the mystery of Major’s past. And that is one of the failings of this film. Instead of exploring concepts like the ones in Blade Runner, it has built a glossier, more high tech version of a similar world and instead of those broader themes being developed, it gives us a more personal mystery instead of the more humanistic themes I was looking for. While I like the overall story of Major and who she is, especially the resolution at the end of the film, it could have been so much more.
Worse, it fails to engage me fully in the story it does build. The secondary characters are barely introduced in some cases while I struggled to keep track of who was who. Some we are given a bit on but few of them are fully developed. And even the villain of the piece, Cutter, is one dimensional and not fleshed out. By the time, I start to develop any interest in the storyline, we are halfway through the movie.
The other strong issue I had with this film is the casting. I love Scarlett Johansson. She is a great actress who can perform fight sequences incredibly well and she did kick ass in this film. But she is also a white woman playing a Japanese character and that bothered me, a lot. Since she is supposedly a brain in a shell, I could buy her being white, however. But what jarred me out of my suspension of disbelief was her halfway Asian makeup job. She was given dark hair and her eyes made up to look similar to Asian features and I felt that was incredibly insulting to the culture as well as not necessary to the story. Either use the big name actress and keep her Caucasian or use an Asian actress, not try to do both. The rest of the cast aside from Kuze were very diverse but her character just didn’t come across as correct.
If you like action movies with a cyberpunk element and great scenery, you may like this movie. However, I think if you are a fan of the anime, you’ll be disappointed. And if you’re looking for an exploration of broader humanistic themes, this is not the movie for you. Go see if for the action and the mystery but don’t expect more. This is a pretty movie with beautiful technology but like the shell Major wears, this is just packaging for a movie without a fully fleshed out plot.
Rating: 3 stars