By Jack Dignan
Not having read the famed Ghost In The Shell magna upon with this film is based, nor having seen the original 90s anime, I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into this movie. The trailers were allusive, hinting at nothing in particular but instead merely showcasing a flux of cool visuals and voice over. This film could’ve gone anywhere. And I wasn’t sure if I should be excited or not. After a tedious opening crawl, two of the exact same title cards and a poor CGI rendering of a robotic body coming to life, the film begins, and that’s when everything started to go downhill. Ugh. Ghost In The Shell is everything you feared it would be and more.
The world of Ghost In The Shell is technologically advanced beyond all comprehension. The line between human and machine has blurred, the two almost becoming one, and that’s where this story begins. It revolves around a woman named Major (Scarlett Johansson). In her past life, Major died, but her mind, or ‘ghost,’ has been salvaged, placed into a brand new cybernetic body. She’s enhanced, stronger and faster than a normal human, and practically immortal too. Major, who’s past is full of tragedies, has been warped into a weapon, and a damn good one at that. She is, by all definitions, the perfect soldier. But being a solider has a price, and the life she’s lived may not have ever happened.
When a dangerous mission with her partner, Batou (Pilou Asbæk), goes horribly wrong, the consequences are severe. Batou loses his vision, his eyes later replaced with cybernetic ones (and they look pretty freaking cool, I will admit), meanwhile Major is held hostage. Her captor? A cyborg named Kuze (Michael Pitt), who was an earlier iteration of Major’s design. This comes as a startling revelation for Major, leading to a generic and predictable plot in which she starts to come to terms with her own existence and get vengeance upon those who did her wrong. For as extensive as the universe surrounding the plot is, the story itself is quite thin. The film is a severe disappointment, wasting every given opportunity to achieve greatness.
Ghost In The Shell is a slow-burner, and not in a good way. Despite being a mere 107 minutes in length, a runtime that feels at least twice that, the story, or lack of, takes its time in being set up. There’s an awful lot of dedication to creating these characters and setting up their backstories, almost exhaustingly so. It’s overbearing. The universe created is thorough and full of the best visuals a $110 million budget can buy, even if they’re executed to an uneven level of quality, but having a good universe is one thing and having a good plot is another. The two may go hand and hand, but you don’t automatically get one if you have the other. This is a concept the writers behind Ghost In The Shell don’t seem to be able to grasp.
Co-writers Jamie Moss and William Wheeler struggle to find rhythm in their tedious adaption of the popular magna series. Characters of supposed great importance come and go with little warning. There’s a primary antagonist who isn’t even so much as mentioned until late into the game, and by the time he appears on screen I was unable to find his connection to any of the main plot points. Ghost In The Shell’s plot is clunky and lacking a much needed flow. Significant plot elements are handled with little care, the twists and turns, as predictable and frequently idiotic as they are, always coming out of absolutely nowhere. Nothing is hinted at, yet you still get a sense of what’s to come because it’s a plot that’s been done to death in much better films.
A key element of the film relates back to the title, Ghost In The Shell. The character of Major once had a life, and this life was taken from her. She has been given a new body and a new identity, or a ‘shell’ if you please, going from a young Asian woman to… uh… Scarlett Johansson. One may argue that the whitewashing of her character is justified within the plot, but the so-called justification of this decision remains racist and immoral. The Ghost In The Shell brand sells itself. It’s a moneymaking platform that’s been going for decades now, so having Johansson as the lead role, no matter how well she may suit the character (aside from her nationality), is inherently whitewashing. Her character could’ve, and should’ve been played by an Asian woman, and the message this film gives would’ve packed the same punch. Nothing about casting Johansson elevates the plot, but instead detracts from the world surrounding her.
I love Scarlett Johansson, don’t get me wrong, but she shouldn’t have been the one to star in this movie. Despite the circumstances, her performance remains grounded and badass. She’s a strong, kick ass female character who’s frequently victimised, going up against the odds to bring justice to her life. The character is cool. She makes me want to go back and visit the original anime, just to spend more time with her. This is something I do actually plan on doing in order to compare it to the lackluster live action remake. Some of Johansson’s deliveries fall a little flat, but 90% of the time she’s sensational. However, there is a subplot involving her mother that I won’t spoil, but it’s handled incredibly poorly. Everyone in that plot just kind of rolls with things, reacting to situations unlike any human (or cyborg, I guess) ever would.
Ghost In The Shell is a contrived, idiotic and ironically lifeless film that spends most of its runtime debating the morals of being alive. It’s a film that obviously thinks its smart and creative, when in reality it’s dumb and generic. Once it hit the hour mark, I started to check my watch every ten to fifteen minutes, and as you can guess, that’s never a good thing. The funniest thing about it is that this film is only really worth watching for Scarlett Johansson’s performance, despite Scarlett Johansson not being the one who should’ve taken the role.
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