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Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Directed by: Rupert Sanders

Premise: An adaptation of the comic book. In a futuristic Japan, cybernetic body enhancements have become commonplace. Major (Scarlett Johansson) has her brain implanted into a mechanical body and she fights crime and corruption but starts to question her identity.

What Works: Ghost in the Shell is adapted from a manga comic book. The manga look doesn’t necessarily translate well into live action but it’s done well here. Whatever its other faults, Ghost in the Shell is a beautifully made film. The story takes place in a Blade Runner-esque metropolis that is full of detail. The cityscapes combine a digital sheen with an organic grit that makes the setting credible. The way the film visualizes the melding of human bodies and cybernetic implants is also done well. The makeup effects look practical instead of conspicuous in the used future style of Star Wars and Alien and the combination of physical and digital effects is quite seamless. There are other exceptional images in Ghost in the Shell, some that tread into abstraction and visualize the character’s struggles with her identity. It is unusual to see this kind of arthouse imagery in a Hollywood tentpole film and so Ghost in the Shell achieves some distinction in today’s comic book movie marketplace.

What Doesn’t: A lot of the visual flair of Ghost in the Shell is derived directly from its source material. In fact, the 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell is virtually the same as the 1995 animated movie. But despite being longer than its predecessor, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell skips through a lot of the subtle details that gave texture and personality to the previous iteration. This film adds very little to the material and like Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast this version of Ghost in the Shell is artistically redundant. This film is plagued by familiarity in another way. Ghost in the Shell faces a similar problem as 2012’s John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel A Princess of Mars. By the time Burroughs’ book got a proper movie adaptation it had been imitated and ripped off so often that the 2012 film played as a string of clichés. This is also the case with Ghost in the Shell. The influence of the manga comic and the 1995 film are apparent in movies such as The Matrix and A.I. Artificial Intelligence and very little of 2017’s Ghost in the Shell feels fresh or original. In this regard, the filmmakers don’t do themselves any favors. The story and its premise offer a lot of possibilities for innovation and creativity as the film deals with philosophical issues like the mind-body problem, free will, and humanity’s relationship with technology, as well as political issues like the corruption of public services by the influence of corporate interests. Ghost in the Shell touches upon these ideas but it does not deal with them in a meaningful way. The film does feature a diverse cast that, given the themes of identity, could have interesting implications but those matters aren’t addressed at all. The failure to innovate wouldn’t be so bad if Ghost in the Shell was entertaining but the movie is boring. The film intends to be an existential exploration wrapped up in a shoot-‘em-up sci-fi action movie but it doesn’t succeed on either front. Major, played by Scarlett Johansson, goes through an identity crisis but the film never finds any drama in it. Part of the problem is Johansson’s performance. She plays a cyborg who gradually discovers her humanity but Johansson is so flat and monotonous that she’s never accessible as a character. The conspiracy plotline isn’t very interesting either. The action sequences are never more than adequate and the story is muddled. The movie has no momentum. It isn’t building toward anything; there’s a big set piece at the end but nothing is won, lost, or affirmed.

Bottom Line: Ghost in the Shell is a mediocre sci-fi action picture. It’s a hollow imitation of its source material that doesn’t provide any insight into the ideas that it courts and the movie is nothing more than a bland action picture.

Episode: #642 (April 9, 2017)