Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
This week, the line between human and machine becomes all but indistinguishable in Ghost in the Shell.
Everyone Around Me Seems to Fit
In a dystopian future, mankind has taken to perfecting itself with the help of dramatic cyber-enhancements. Hanka Robotics has taken that concept to the extreme with Major, a cybernetic being operated by a human brain whose sole purpose is to hunt down the world’s worst criminals. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the perfect soldier … and she’s the only one of her kind. That fact leads to deep inner conflict as Major struggles to balance her cybernetic shell with her human soul. When a new case leads her down a rabbit hole full of daunting questions, Major begins to uncover appalling truths about her past, and sets out to expose the devious deeds of her makers. Welcome to the wild and utterly empty world of Ghost in the Shell.
Maybe Next Time You Can Design Me Better
I really wish I had better news to report from that world, but I don’t. By now I’m sure we’re all well aware of the whitewashing controversy spawned by the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major. Not to mention the wide-spread boycotting it spawned. While that controversy certainly helped derail Ghost in the Shell when it hit theaters last summer (becoming one of 2017’s biggest bombs in the process), the film actually suffers most from a more embarrassing problem; it simply isn’t very good.
Given the merits of the film that inspired Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii’s legendary, 1995 anime of the same name), that may come as a bit of a surprise to some. It shouldn’t. Oshii’s film (and even the manga on which it was based) has been held in such high esteem since debuting over 20 years ago that any effort to update or adapt it should’ve spelled doom for any filmmaker or actors getting involved. Of course, the Hollywood vacuum rarely shies away from a chance to “reimagine” and usually ruin classic content, so here we are with an ill-advised, Americanized adaptation of a story/film still admired by millions.
To be fair, Rupert Sanders and his Ghost in the Shell team doesn’t completely step on the legacy of Oshii’s film. Fans of that movie will be happy to know that – outside of casting a white woman in the lead – Sanders & Co. stay true to the inventive, near-psychedelic visual approach that made 1995’s Ghost in the Shell such feast for the eyes and senses. In fact, they’re quite exact when matching many of the iconic shots and set ups that made that film stand apart. As such, this Ghost in the Shell is often just as visually arresting as its predecessor.
Sadly, Sanders and the folks at Paramount – bent on pulling a PG-13 rating from the decidedly adult-oriented original – also tone down or completely excise much of the audacious sex and violence that lent a ghastly but giddy edge to Oshii’s work. The filmmakers try to make up for the absence of both by building up the world and characters within their Ghost in the Shell, but the stakes never quite feel high enough to support the would-be drama within. Even if they manage to make their Ghost look great – and it really is something to see – there’s just not enough left to engage viewer’s hearts or their minds. That leaves Scarlett Johansson to carry the emotional load of the film, a stage Johansson uses to deliver the most emotionally stunted performance of her career. The actor’s inability to humanize Major in any way, shape or form leaves the character to become what she dreaded most, a pretty shell with nothing inside. Just like the movie she’s stuck in.
No. It’s not. While Ghost in the Shell is often jaw-droppingly gorgeous to look at, it’s an absolute bore of a film. Which is something that nobody has ever said about the anime that inspired it. So if you’re looking for some sage advice about what to watch this weekend, you have my consent to skip this new Ghost in the Shell altogether and put your dollar toward the $3.99 rental fee on Oshii’s 1995 masterpiece instead. Trust me, you will not regret it.