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Ghost in the Shell (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

Ghost in the Shell


Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Peter Ferdinando, Kaori Momoi, Anamaria Marinca, Daniel Henshall, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara and Tawanda Manyimo.

Screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger.

Directed by Rupert Sanders.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Ghost in the Shell probably never really had a shot. It is a live-action version of arguably one of the two or three most revered anime/magna titles in history, Masamune Shirow’s 1988 graphic novel, which was turned into a 1995 animated film by the same name. Fans of the original film were not likely to be happy with what they did to a classic film. People who have never seen the original and can’t be bothered with anime (like me) will probably just look at Ghost in the Shell and think: “See, that’s why I don’t watch magna.” It is dark, grimy, confusing, downbeat and extremely violent.

So, why did they make the new Ghost in the Shell then? Well, for money of course. And perhaps, they thought that special effects had moved on to a point where they could do the story justice.

And you know what? The special effects are pretty amazing.

Shame about that storyline, though.

The film takes place in a dystopian not-so-distant future (yawn, not another one of those…) in a future Japan that looks mysteriously like the set of Blade Runner. Industries have finally created the technology that make physical bodies unnecessary. Instead of worrying about growing old, getting progressively sicker and dying, they have created a process for linking a live human brain with an android body, the perfect melding they say between man and machine.

Why worry about fat, or disfigurement, or physical infirmities? Not only can the process make you forever young, but it will give you strengths and abilities that are simply beyond your original bone machine. But, umm, yeah, you will have lots of cracks in your new body from where the parts are molded together.

Invincible strength and infinite beauty. Of course, there are certain moral and philosophical questions raised by this transformation, which Ghost in the Shell does brood over fetchingly. But, mostly it’s about the violence.

Scarlett Johansson plays Major, the pioneer of this revolutionary procedure. She is a soldier who has a tragic accident in which her body was ravaged (though there are some hints that the damage was not as bad as she was told) and her brain was harvested into one of the androids. A year later, she is a butt-kicking super spy who takes on supervillains in a nude plastic body suit. (No naughty parts, though, just lots and lots of plastic skin.)

A series of attacks on her employer, the company who created the technology that saved her life (or did it?) leads Major and her human partner to investigate the underworld of future Tokyo, as well as the somewhat hazy and questionable motives of her own boss.

Johansson pouts, looks pained and kicks ass with panache, but this is a role that she could play in her sleep, and sometimes it feels like she is.

The rest of the story is both eye-poppingly evocative (the sets are spectacular) and mind-deadeningly confusing (the storyline is both overly complicated and horribly unlikely). Also, if you haven’t figured out the secret of the so-called bad guy by about the halfway point, you aren’t trying that hard.

Is there really any reason to watch this version of Ghost in the Shell over the original? Probably not. But if you haven’t seen the original and you are into this kind of thing (and let’s face it, what are the chances of both of those being true?) then you may enjoy the live-action version.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: July 26, 2017.

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