There has been a healthy amount of controversy surrounding Paramount Pictures’ latest action flick Ghost in the Shell due to its whitewashing of the Japanese anime character. Despite those claims, both the directors of the original films and the international business division of the company that holds the rights to the originals approved of the film’s casting. So, with that said, I won’t focus on that aspect. What is more unsettling is the borderline disrespectful retelling of a riveting, iconic story. Starring an astonishingly lifeless Scarlett Johannson, Ghost in the Shell tells the tale of an artificially crafted anti-terrorism soldier with a human mind and a specialized robotic body or “shell”. Based on the classic anime of the same name, this current live-action rendition fails to remain true to the thematic heart and soul of the original. Instead, we get a cluttered, over-produced rehash with about as much personality as a bowl of Corn Flakes… Without any milk. I must admit, going into this film I had not seen the 1995 anime movie. But after asking a few friends and coworkers, I was explained the concept and given a general synopsis of the film. Its narrative of searching within oneself to ultimately find what makes us human intrigued me immensely.
In the futuristic time period that protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi dwells, the perception of what is human and what is cyborg is so blurred that they are nearly one in the same. Technology has advanced in a such a way that nearly all humans have been artificially “enhanced” in one way or another. Major’s memory has been wiped and reprogrammed only to fulfill the greedy agenda of world-leading robotics development company Hanka Robotics. She has been told an alteration of her past so that she can become an ultimate killing machine. Having her believe that her parents and everything she ever knew and loved was taken from her via acts of terror brews a calculated, weaponized assassin fueled by human willpower. The presented vagueness of the human element aids Major’s ignorance of the fact that her true past has been hidden from her by the people who she believes to be allies.
When a piece of her identity is revealed to her by a similar cyborg test subject, deemed as a terrorist threat by her makers, Major begins to question her existence thus beginning her journey of discovering her soul or “ghost”. This storyline is golden, people. And they butchered it. The list of issues I have with this movie grows the more I reflect on it. But for reading purposes, I’ll keep it civil. For starters, once the opening credits close, which exhibit the assembling of Scarlett Johannson as Major, there is a brief dialogue between the star and her wannabe mother-figure Dr. Ouelet (played by Juliette Binoche) where she coaches Major through her first breaths as a near-perfect human-cyborg fusion. The doctor along with CEO of Hanka Robotics singularly known as Cutter (played by Peter Ferdinando) sedate Major as they discuss plans going forward now that they’ve finally achieved this technological breakthrough. Cutter quickly dismisses Dr. Ouelet’s emotional ties to Major as he calls her a weapon rather than a human.
The very next scene sees ScarJo chilling on a rooftop receiving orders from her commander. Where is the connection? I have no freaking clue. Whether Rupert Sanders and company assumed every viewer had previously seen the original anime or they simply didn’t bother to adhere to filmmaking 101 is unclear to me. But what is for certain is that this film never intended to appease its paying customers by stringing together coherent ideas. Rather they chose to fling scenes of mass gunfire or explosions (or both) in viewers’ faces possibly to keep us from dozing off entirely. Johannson’s performance bored me to tears. I understand that her character is a semi-robotic trained killer who has little recollection of who she is exactly. However, that is no excuse for her frequently rushed line delivery and total lack of emotional cognizance. She literally made me wish I was watching any other actress. Also, throughout the film her walking motion irked me to no end. That’s petty, I know. But strutting around like a child who gets told no every time she asks for dessert at the dinner table was surprisingly distracting.
The soundtrack here clashes with many of the film’s most climatic scenes. Instead of complementing the visual crescendo of the “Cutter’s demise” or “Major’s getaway” scenes the music flattens out when its number is called, making those scenes feel less important. That isn’t to say that the score is bad, though. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. But, in my opinion, it wasn’t immersive enough at the right times to dictate the emotions of the viewership. The cinematography and visual effects do their best to save the film. And, to be honest, those elements raise Ghost in the Shell’s watchability to a tolerable level. Nevertheless, the dull, stiff performances from Ferdinando and Johannson matched with Sanders’ complete lack of narrative awareness make this live-action remix a total cash-grabbing disappointment. At times, the action here is entertaining and believable; while at other points the punishment doesn’t fit the aftermath. The foundation of any film lies in its storytelling. Some films succeed from stunning visuals, superstar performances, or a moving script. But without a cohesive narrative, a film will never be as good as it could be. Here, the timeline moves at a rapid pace, never once stopping to give any kind of back story or justification for doing so. With too many plot holes to count, there is only one apparent theme that exists within Ghost in the Shell: zero sense — which ironically is exactly how much I wish I had paid to see this film.