Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell

Rating

Director

Rupert Sanders

Screenplay

Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger

Length

1h 47m

Starring

Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images

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Review

One of the most popular anime films in history, Ghost in the Shell, was adapted from a celebrated manga and has now been turned into an American theatrical motion picture. Built in the same world and with the same characters as both the manga and the anime, this new live-action film takes the events of those two distinct stories and creates a third variation on the theme with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.

Major Mira Killian (Johansson) is a synthetic body constructed by technology firm Hanka Robotics. They have found a way to take the human brain and implant it into an artificial body while retaining its memories. This construct, part of a secret project, has been working as part of a counterterrorism bureau within the government tasked with preventing acts against the state. One such event, involving a rogue geisha AI, leads Killian on a quest to track down the hacker and preventing further attacks on Hanka.

As the plot unravels, Killian begins to question the memories that continue to resurface even as her Hanka Robotics handler, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoches), dismisses them as glitches. As her shell takes a beating, the ghosts of her past threaten to expose even more secrets and topple a project that is thought to be the forefront of the future.

The idea of artificial intelligence has been discussed frequently in science fiction, but the reverse has been seldom seen. A human mind beholden to a mechanical body provides a unique entry point into the exploration of technology versus humanity. Can the advances of society keep apace with the moral and ethical considerations involved?

Ghost in the Shell is a glossy re-adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s acclaimed manga of the same name. It was originally adapted to the big screen in 1995 by director Mamoru Oshii and has only grown in reputation since. The decision to hand a live-action feature film adaptation over to DreamWorks was met with initial hostility due to the distance put between the company and the film’s Japanese origins. This was exacerbated by the casting of Johansson in the lead.

While it would have been more compelling with a Japanese actress in the role, Johnsson does a satisfactory job with the material. She gives a solid, emotionless performance, though at times it doesn’t fit the growth her character is going through. She parlays her history of straight-faced action heroines into a modestly compelling portrait of a human mind trapped inside a synthetic shell.

The broad international cast backing her up is a fascinating bunch, each bringing a unique perspective to the material. They are hampered by characters that the screenwriters don’t seem interested in developing, but each actor does their best with what they have been given.

Fans of the original anime film will be pleased to see numerous throwbacks to the 1995 film. Favoring callbacks over outright copying is a benefit to the audience who won’t feel like they are being fed recycled material. Some of the most compelling visual elements of the animated version are kept intact, which adds to the strength of the additional elements.

Whether the philosophical discussions that develop from Ghost in the Shell will be as deep as those surrounding the originals, it must be said that the film doesn’t shy away from those themes. The producers have attempted to insert weighty material into a Hollywood-style action shell, a perfect metaphor for the film. It’s the mind, not the shell, that makes one human.

Oscar Prospects

None

Review Written

May 23, 2017

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