Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando
Plot: Major (Johansson) is the first of her kind: a human brain inside a totally robot body. She works for her mysterious creators to take down a cyber-terrorist unit.
Ghost in the Shell is the kind of film that might have been good a few years back. Based on an intricate Japanese manga, the actual story is fairly extensive, focused on unravelling the personality and nature of the ultimate cyborg. The only human part of Major is her brain; the rest of her is totally robotic. As you watch Ghost in the Shell, you cannot help but think that when the manga was first realised in 1989, the story was far more impressive. However, since then, the rogue robot story has pretty much evolved into its own sub-genre. We have had hundreds of stories about robots turning on their creators, from indie hidden gems like Ex-Machina to major blockbuster epics like Bladerunner. As Scarlett Johansson’s identity-questioning cyborg hero begins to wonder what she is actually fighting for, there is some moderate moments when you are impressed, but mostly there is this overwhelming sense of been there, done that. This also goes for any moment in the film that asks: what is a robot? Any film, or TV show, with a robot is compelled to tell the story of ‘how human can artificial intelligence be?’, a problem that feels especially troublesome for Sanders film with the recent releases of Westworld and Humans. Yes, there are some interesting aspects to Major’s hunt for identity, but it is nothing that we haven’t seen before. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is also something that could have done with a fresh take. This comment has nothing against the actual actress, who I have nothing for admiration for; it is only I have seen her play variations of this character before. Major, being a robot, is unable to fully convey her emotions. Therefore, when major emotional twists are revealed, Major might be dramatically moved by what has just happened, but her character cannot fully show that to us. I get that this isn’t bad film-making; in fact, I would usually applaud the fact that the character offloads the hardest hitting dramatic points with the barest flicker of sadness. My issue is that Scarlett Johansson has done this type of performance before. It is a more toned down Black Widow, a more empathetic version of Under the Skin… the super-being figure also has elements of Lucy. It feels like the Best of Scar-Jo squashed into one movie, which while momentarily pleases (it is never not fun seeing Scarlett Johansson in action), again doesn’t quite push the film forward. Apparently Margot Robbie was the first choice of the character. That would have been better, because I haven’t seen Robbie play that minimalistic character before. Straight after her enthusiastic Harley Quinn, it would have been a terrific career movie for the blockbuster star.
But if the one thing wrong with your movie is a lack of originality, then at the very least you have a forgettably enjoyable romp. It is hard to find too much more wrong with Ghost in the Shell. I can easily nit-pick: it would have been nice to see more done with a few of the supporting characters, most of whom are built up to look quite intimidatingly fun, but move the story along very little. However, on the whole, Ghost in the Shell is a perfectly good film to get lost in for a little while. Sanders creates a very visual treat here, aesthetically this film constantly wowing. Even the backdrop of this movie is impressing every few moments. Ghost in the Shell’s futuristic Japan is a metropolis, where holographic advertising fills the sky. Giant serpents fly above the characters’ head, promoting the latest product. The foreground is just as enchanting. In this universe, almost every character has a cybernetic enhancement. This creates a wonderful narrative, where, at any given moment, a spare character might suddenly become unexpectedly interesting, their head suddenly opening up into a micro-computer. One of the main protagonists eyes are blown out, replaced with some telescopic lens, that must have looked great on the pages of a manga. The villain of the piece is also an interesting part-robot, his voice sounding like a failing computer. He looks the part definitely, as do his goons, little more than red shirts, but ominous through their unique looks. There are some neat set-pieces too, the fights perhaps too short, but fun enough to make up for a lot of the film’s criticisms. An early scene shows us some creepy robotic Geisha girls, turned killers-for-hire. Yes, Ghost in the Shell does the little things right, making it a slightly flat watch due to the lack of fresh ideas, but hardly anything upsetting.
Final Verdict: Ghost in the Shell doesn’t do anything wrong, as much as it doesn’t do anything new. Disappointing, yes, but not necessarily bad.