'Ghost in the Shell' Review: An Empty Shell With Nothing to Say

Johansson tries hard to make Major seem sad and tragic, but the whole thing is so incoherent, chilly and nearly anti-emotional that it's tough to feel anything much. In a better film that explores Major's ownership of her own body from start to finish, a scene where she's assaulted in a nightclub has meaning. Of course, any movie depicting a crowded, cyberpunk-y city sits in Blade Runner's shadow, but this one doubles down on the debt, crowding its skyline with enormous holographic advertisements - an obvious echo the giant billboards that dominated Ridley Scott's futuristic Los Angeles. If you need a Ghost in the Shell fix, just watch the original again. Juliette Binoche wins the HIGH HAND facing Scarlett Johansson. One of the most compelling things about the movie is the way that nearly every character has been altered cybernetically, but for the most part, no one makes a big deal about it. What once was a question-raising hypothesis on the future of humanity is now an action-packed origin story that clearly hopes to spawn a new franchise by the most cynical means possible. "There's a new feeling to this film", says Johansson.

Years in the making, Ghost in the Shell is an expensive, carefully calculated, corporate version of a manga that was anything but.

Besides being a really nice touch and perhaps the most overt reference to Oshii's classic film, it's also simply an incredible piece of music. Later, we are further informed that Major's hardy brain was all that survived after a maritime disaster that killed her immigrant parents while they were bringing her to Japan-they could've been coming from, like, anywhere, right? It's impossible to discuss the movie's troubled treatment of identity politics without spoiling some big reveals, but before we get into those, there are plenty of other things that make the live-action remake a disappointment.

One is that the fundamental Ghost in the Shell theme of technological alienation, which played out perfectly in the measured pace of the animated film, can't be given enough space to do so in a big-budget live-action movie-time is money, and gentle melancholy doesn't pay its way. It's also an enormous treat to see the legendary Japanese actor and filmmaker "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as the commander of Section 9, the special operations team on which the Major and Batou both serve. Sanders again re-imagines an iconic scene from the anime as Major's nude body dives face-first from a rooftop. But it's the supporting performances from the notably global cast that stand out - particularly Kitano, Batou, Pitt and Juliette Binoche, who plays the scientist who created the Major.

Though the film doesn't seem to be liked by fans of the anime original, it stands well on its own as a film focused on a cybernetically enhanced hero who comes through a firestorm to understand who she truly is. The company took the brains of the runaways and used them create the ultimate superhuman weapon by encasing them in white "bodies".

For all the celebrated vision of the 1995 Japanese anime standard "Ghost in the Shell", it resembled the inspirations of a teenage boy hopped up on the works of Phillip K. Dick and Hugh Hefner. It's a wonder Ghost in the Shell's soundtrack wasn't filled with Korn and Public Enemy.

  • Salvatore Jensen