Just in case you don’t get the title, it’s all spelled out for you in the opening moments of the film, all very neat and tidy.
See, as GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017), a new science fiction film starring Scarlett Johansson and based on a comic and classic anime movie from 1995, opens, we are told that the Major (Scarlett Johansson) a cyborg who now works as a soldier fighting crime has had her brain implanted into an artificial body, thus her soul, or “ghost” is inside an artificial “shell.”
Oh, now I get it! Ghost in the shell! Gee, I don’t think I would have figured that out without that crystal clear explanation!
Talk about dumbing things down for your audience.
And like this silly pointless explanation, in spite of the extravagant special effects and eye-popping visuals, GHOST IN THE SHELL is about as imaginative as yolk in the shell.
It’s the near future— although the spectacular cityscape makes it look like the far distant future— and as the movie explains in its first few moments, the Major is a cyborg who fights crime. She works for a division run by the noble Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) and her favorite crime fighting buddy is fellow cyborg Batou (Pilou Asbaek). He’s a cyborg because he loses his eyes in an explosion and receives new and improved versions. It’s what everybody does in this society: upgrade their bodies with machine parts. It’s one of the more fascinating parts of a story that isn’t very fascinating.
Whenever Major is injured, she visits her doctor, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), who makes the necessary repairs and asks her how she’s feeling. It seems to be important to Dr. Ouelet that Major not forget her humanity, as she constantly reminds her that she’s more than just a machine. She tells Major that her brain inside this shell enables her to keep her essence, her soul. It’s a thought-provoking concept that sadly is hardly explored in this movie.
But Major’s department is also run by a cliché evil baddie named Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) who is supposed to be a good guy but is so obviously crooked he might as well be wearing a name tag with the word VILLAIN printed on it. One of his first lines in the movie is when he’s arguing with Dr. Ouelet about Major’s future, and whereas the doctor argues for her humanity, he calls her a weapon and declares she works for his company. Oh no! It’s another dreaded evil company!
When a new threat emerges, killing the scientists in this company, it’s up to Major to stop it, and along the way, she learns shocking information about her past that was kept from her by her doctors, a “revelation” that is clearly given away in the movie’s trailers, and so it’s not a revelation at all.
For a movie that talks about souls and humanity, GHOST IN THE SHELL is as lifeless as an empty egg shell. The screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger, based on the comic “The Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow, is anemic and flat. The dialogue is uninspiring, and the story dull and mindless.
Director Rupert Sanders does a nice job with the visuals and adds some nifty cinematic touches. The dazzling futuristic cityscape is satisfying although not entirely original, as it is clearly reminiscent of the look of Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER (1982). These visual effects are the main reason to see GHOST IN THE SHELL, although on their own they’re not enough to save this movie. Not even close.
Surprisingly, Scarlett Johansson is rather dull as the Major. She doesn’t act like a cyborg with a human brain. She acts like a robot, pure and simple. And the generic naked body suit which she wears throughout the film when she disrobes makes her look like an undressed department store mannequin. It’s a rather laughable look, which I’m sure the filmmakers were not going for. Her Rated G naked body is symbolic of the whole movie: it’s a whitewashed lackluster tale with any and all intelligence bleached out.
You know, a few years back, when Liam Neeson was making all those TAKEN movies as well as other action flicks with similar themes and plot points, the joke was, okay, which family member is Neeson trying to save in this movie? Because he kept showing up in similarly conceived actioners. Likewise, this is the third time Johansson has played this type of role. She played a similar role in LUCY (2014) a film in which her character discovers unlimited brain capacity, and she played a mysterious woman who turned out to be an alien in UNDER THE SKIN (2013), all similarly themed characters who learn “shocking” secrets about themselves. Of the three, her work as the Major here in GHOST OF THE SHELL is the least satisfying.
I found the rest of the cast to be dull and uninspiring. Pilou Asbaek is okay as Batou, although he looks like Billy Idol on steroids impersonating Wolverine. Likewise, Juliette Binoche is just okay as Dr. Ouelet.
Sadly, I didn’t care about any of the characters in this movie.
The film also does a terrible job establishing a sense of place. It certainly looks like it’s taking place in a city in Japan, yet no mention is ever made in the film of exactly where they are, what country or city.
I was bored with GHOST IN THE SHELL from the outset. At least during the first half of the movie, I was somewhat entertained by the film’s visual landscape, but without a solid story and interesting characters, I pretty much lost interest during the film’s monotonous second act
I found GHOST IN THE SHELL to be a major disappointment. It’s about as thought-provoking and compelling as those awful RESIDENT EVIL and UNDERWORLD movies.
Without a doubt, it’s my least favorite Scarlett Johansson movie.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.