Ghost in the Shell (Movie Review)

Ghost in the Shell (Movie Review)
4 10

Ghost in the Shell movie review Scarlett Johansson Michael Pitt

PLOT: A cyber-enhanced government operative has to take down a terrorist who is systematically killing members of the company that created her.

REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL is one of those movies that I'm so ambivalent toward I can barely muster up the energy to review it. An unnecessary adaptation of the popular manga and 1995 anime, it brings nothing new to the table aside from controversy over the casting of its two leads. I understood the backlash before seeing the film, but was willing to give it a pass if the movie had offered me entertainment and maybe even a sensible reason for its "whitewashing." Now, having seen it, I think there is a very legitimate gripe to be had.

But others have written about the controversy more thoroughly and have opinions on the topic stronger than my own. For the purposes of this review, let's go with the "as long as it's enjoyable, I can forgive it its wrongheadedness" viewpoint. Thing is, this isn't a very enjoyable movie. Like some of its characters, it moves along robotically, soullessly, an expensive creation built by cynical people. It looks good, for a while. Director Rupert Sanders and his team of VFX wizards create a visually-arresting metropolis (Tokyo?) complete with massive, bizarre holograms that loom ominously over the city. But that's all just window-dressing. The movie's main set-pieces predominantly take place in gloomy buildings and factories. The intrigue built during some of the early aerial shots of the city slowly dies away when the movie becomes intent on dialing up its lame action, giving us sequences that make you think Sanders must have just recently seen THE MATRIX for the first time. In fact, GHOST IN THE SHELL feels more like one of those chintzy MATRIX-ripoffs from the early 2000s - EQUILIBRIUM or ULTRAVIOLET - than the anime it so obviously wants to replicate.

The story itself feels quite recycled too. Scarlett Johansson plays Major, a government operative with a human brain and synthetic body. She grapples with the meaning of her existence while kicking all kinds of bad guy ass, and she's become troubled by vague flashbacks of her life before her physical upgrade. (Shades of ROBOCOP here.) Learning her creators, the people she's been trusting for a year, are actually not as virtuous as they appear can only inspire yawns from an audience that has simply seen all this before. Johansson's character is fairly humorless, and her performance certainly reflects Major's world-weariness, but as a protagonist we don't get very involved in Major's somber plight.

The rest of the cast is just as filled with ennui, save for maybe Pilou Asbaek as Major's partner Batou. Legendary Japanese star 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano couldn't look more bored during his glum scenes as Major's superior, while a mumbling Michael Pitt makes for a weak pseudo-villain named Kuze who is sort of in the same boat as Major. (As a character he might as well be a replicant in BLADE RUNNER.) Juliette Binoche is here, trying to overcome flat dialogue as a scientist who helped create Major, and all you can think while watching her is "Why is Juliette Binoche in GHOST IN THE SHELL?"

The big finale of the film is so ho-hum. Instead of capitalizing on some of the cool cityscapes we've seen early on, Sanders and co. opt for a dark, boring sequence featuring a "spider tank" that looks like it just crawled out of TERMINATOR: SALVATION or something else equally uninspired. This scene may be true to the source material, but there's no reason for it to be staged so listlessly.

There really isn't much more to say about this. It's generic and grim and never once proves it deserves to exist. Fans of the anime will have no reason to see it, and those unfamiliar with its origins would be better suited delving into the original film as opposed to this pale imitation. As for the whitewashing claims, they're completely valid, adding yet another strike to a movie that has way too many as is.



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