Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: March 31st, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Rupert Sanders Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando, Danusia Samal

 


 

I

n the future, cybernetic enhancements have become commonplace, adeptly obfuscating the lines between man and machine. The pinnacle of such achievements in harmonious robotization is Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), a young girl who barely survived a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of her parents. With her human body irreparably damaged, Mira’s brain is transplanted into a cyborg frame – the ultimate weapon to be sent for training under Section 9, an elite unit of soldiers tasked with investigating cyberterrorism. A year later, while on patrol, Major Killian and her partner Batou (the perfectly cast Pilou Asbaek) interrupt an assassination plot against a board member of Hanka Robotics. Further sleuthing into the unusual hacking methods used in the murder reveals a mysterious entity named Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who is targeting notable employees of the company. When the trail of clues leads back to Mira’s own cybernetic technician, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the Major becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

The film involves the melding of human body parts with robotics, or the immersion of human brains with technological enhancements. It is not about highly advanced artificial intelligence. And yet, there’s almost no difference in the way these vastly different concepts are treated; the story wanders down the path of machines being defined as assets, which very much goes against the idea of the lead character’s obvious humanity. She may have had her body replaced, but she still controls it with a fully cognitive brain.

This mismatched notion, which leads to one of the antagonists (a typical company man) continually attempting to terminate Mira as a mere project that he owns, further loses its subtlety when dialogue explains that the title’s “ghost” is the soul, and that the “shell” is the cybernetic body. And this is reiterated on numerous occasions, as if the audience will surely miss the first couple of blatant references. Of course, the more complicated interpretation of “ghost” is then immediately dropped; with a specific definition, it’s difficult to think about the ghostlike qualities of the Major’s abilities – including linking into android minds, locating a mysteriously ethereal network, or even just engaging camouflage armor that turns her literally invisible to her enemies. Even the movie’s title itself is shown twice onscreen – once in plain text and once as a stylized graphic.

Strangely, where some ideas are allowed no room for intricacies, others receive no details whatsoever. Mind shadows, textured code, and deep diving are abstract inspirations that fail to acquire clarification – so they instead just occur, to offer up answers on the mystery at hand. And while that mystery is far easier to comprehend than the overworked plot of the source material (the manga and, to a much greater degree, the 1996 anime), it’s been rewritten for a significantly less sophisticated, assumed audience – virtually to the point that it’s too simplistic. There are very few surprises, and the revelations have disposed of the formerly fascinating notes on identity, reality, and technology destroying humanity (and the fact that, since everything and everyone is dependent on transdisciplinary, computer-augmented functionality, all crime is now cybercrime).

To its credit, the sets are stunning (if a bit derivative of other futuristic environments influenced by Asian architecture and advertising), the costumes are faithfully adapted, and the makeup is flawless. As in “Sin City” and “300,” many of the shots appear as if ripped straight from the pages of a graphic novel. And though the source materials (starting in 1989) predate a wealth of filmic properties that drew inspiration from its various iterations, a live-action adaptation in 2017 feels a bit like “John Carter” did in 2012. The story and characters may have come first, but the movie did not. As a result, “Ghost in the Shell” looks to have borrowed from many of the franchises that it, in fact, influenced.

Additionally, the visuals are unable to remain consistent; while certain moments possess vivid, hypnotic characteristics, most of the action sequences and computer-animated character movements are noticeably off. Nevertheless, this dependence on imagery attempts to compensate too much for the oversimplified storyline, which makes the visual faults just that much more apparent. Overall, it’s a picture designed in such a way that it should really only please longtime fans – but it’s likely to upset them instead with all the alterations to both fundamental and extraneous parts.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10