In an indefinite future, cybernetic enhancements have become a growing trend. On the forefront of this advancement is Major (Scarlett Johansson), a human mind placed into a robotic shell. To some, the perfect weapon.
The premise of Ghost in the Shell leaves the narrative bleeding with the thematic duality of human vs. inhuman. What defines the line between man machine? Is Major, within the Noel Carroll definition, a monster? Given that she is our protagonist, it is hard to say.
The first we see of Major (awake, that is) is Johansson gasping for air. Terror in her eyes. Genuine fear. She appears human as she does in her skin. But she is not, at least not fully. Much of the film depicts her as stoic, emotionless, Johansson’s lines delivered in empty monotone.
As presented, this theme is not altogether interesting. In terms of modernity, a film like Ex Machina has broached this subject with more engaging intricacy.
More engaging, perhaps, is the continually timely subject of hacking in an ever-more technology dependent world. Either way, the film is best viewed not for its thematic depth but for its visual depth.
As a visual film, Ghost in the Shell excels. The cityscape is lush, painted with large holographic images on a muted backdrop. More impressive, though, are the CG augmentations on the cast that add depth to the world.
Aside from Johansson’s lack of emotive dialogue—a purposeful choice but by no means a good one—the cast provides some layers to a film that would otherwise feel like a spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Juliette Binoche is able to showcase her talent in a handful of scenes.
The same cannot be said for prolific multi-hyphenate Takeshi Kitano, who spends all but two scenes sitting around telling Major not to do things. To be fair, one of those two scenes is absolutely marvelous and downright badass, but he deserves more than one scene.
Ghost in the Shell serves its anime predecessor well. It utilizes strong visual effects technology to justify its live action redux. Perhaps all the film could ever hope to do was justify its own existence, but that is still exceedingly better than squandering the brand name with trite, Hollywoodized trash. In this case, Hollywood made do just fine.
That said, if you haven’t seen the animated Ghost in the Shell movie, then that is strongly recommended over this acceptable-enough correlate.
Ghost in the Shell: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)