Movies to Watch After You See 'Ghost in the Shell'

It's so frustrating because there are interesting themes floating around Ghost in the Shell, about humanity, freedom from corporate exploitation, and what defines us - our memories or our actions? You already knew that, though.

"Led by a resolute Scarlett Johansson, Rupert Sanders' pulse-quickening, formally stunning live-action take on the manga classic both honors and streamlines its source". But it's the supporting performances from the notably worldwide cast that stand out - particularly Kitano, Batou, Pitt and Juliette Binoche, who plays the scientist who created the Major. A newer version of Kenji Kawai's theme music, reimagined by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe, plays as translucent nerves dance around one another and Major's body rises through a pool of Westworld-like milk. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Hunstman) creates a lovely and unusual neon-lit nightmare of a dystopian world, so detailed and intriguing that as the agents of Section 9 roamed the streets, I often found myself thinking that the camera could abandon them at any point to follow someone else - a random pedestrian, a stray dog - and I'd have been cool with it. The issue of consent is more timely, as Major has to affirmatively accept various risks and procedures (like all of those "I agree" boxes you have to check every time you update your software), but the movie is too busy showing us zippy Pokemon Go-style virtual ads all over the city to spend any thought on it, or anything else, for that matter.

Sanders does bring some magnetism to a few sequences, most notably Major's camouflage water fight scene. That leaves less room for the philosophical musings of the original, and places greater emphasis on plot twists that aren't particularly shocking, many courtesy of cybernetic villain Kuze (Michael Pitt). Many are upset with Ghost in the Shell because of the whitewashing of the character of Major and others. Whether she had Sanders honor the intent of "Ghost in the Shell" or betray it is for each viewer to decide. Here those ideas are presented with painfully on-the-nose, poorly written dialogue. And Major has a partner, Batou (Pilou Asbæk). If you are hoping for something deeper, watch the original anime film. A lot of that has to do with Johansson's line delivery, which comes off stilted and forced. The closer she gets, the more glitches begin obscuring the Major's vision. There are moments where that works, especially in the physicality of Johansson's walk and posture, but she never quite captures a believable balance.

But Ghost in the Shell isn't concerned with any of this, of course. When she's not swan-diving from precipices, she's stiff-legged, stooped, arms akimbo, not at all inhabiting the lithe panther power of the animated Major.

Starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead, the film follows the story of Major - a special ops, one-of-a-kind human cyborg hybrid, who leads the elite task force Section 9. Such a defense might have worked, if Ghost in the Shell didn't insist on revealing Major's backstory as that of a Japanese woman. The company took the brains of the runaways and used them create the ultimate superhuman weapon by encasing them in white "bodies".

As another writer pointed out to me after the movie, Ghost in the Shell is essentially Get Out, but without the awareness of, or commentary on, racial dynamics.

  • Salvatore Jensen