Review of “Ghost in the Shell”

Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) was injured and her parents killed in a terrorist attack. Her body was so badly damaged the Hanka Robotics decides to use her in their experiments to put a person’s brain (also called the ghost) in a cybernetic body. Human enhancement with cybernetic components is commonplace in this future world but this is the first time a brain is transplanted into a synthetic body. The program, overseen by Hanka CEO Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) tells head researcher and cybernetics designer Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) Mira will be turned over to Section 9, a counter terrorism unit, to serve as a soldier. One year after the procedure, Mira, now referred to by her rank, Major, is fighting against a cyberterrorist known as Kuze (Michael Pitt) who is killing Hanka scientists and announcing those that work with Hanka will die. The Major along with fellow soldiers Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Togusa (Chin Han) and others are working to put an end to Kuze’s reign of terror; however, when Kuze captures the Major and reveals secrets of his past she begins to question her existence, her memories and who the real terrorists are.

Based on the manga and anime of the same name, “Ghost in the Shell” is supposed to be about how it doesn’t matter how much technology becomes intertwined with people, humanity will always win. This movie adaptation, with a fair amount of criticism over the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a character most fans of the source material consider Japanese, is more about looks over substance. The movie is visually impressive but it doesn’t seem to have much going for it under the surface.

The whitewashing controversy was more of a story in the western world than Asia. According to various news stories with people involved with the original manga and anime, it was assumed a Western adaptation of the story would likely involve a well-known Western actress as the budget of the film would likely require someone of a certain stature to acquire funding. While there are certainly many examples of white actors playing roles originally created as Asian or other ethnicities, I’m not sure the amount of criticism levelled at Johansson and the producers of the film is warranted. The Major is a synthetic body housing a Japanese brain. Her appearance in the movie is western and female. She could have just as easily looked African and male. If it had been a white man in the role, then there would have been something to really complain about. As it stands, the quality of the movie has far bigger problems than the casting.

Pardon the comparison but Johansson’s acting as the cyborg Major is painfully robotic. There are flashes of humanity, such as her encounter with a prostitute and feeding a stray dog, but otherwise she plays the part like one of the animatronic characters in a Disney park. Her face is generally frozen in a mild scowl with occasional flashes of confusion. Johansson is giving a whole-body performance as she moves somewhat robotically when she walks. Her head is thrust forward like her brain is in a hurry and her body is trying to catch up. Other than in fight scenes when her moves are more graceful and athletic, Johansson looks stiff in ways both physical and emotional.

The rest of the cast, given very little to do by a script that went through at least five known writers and possibly six or seven more providing notes and punch-ups, are mostly on hand to provide exposition or the occasional visual flair to a battle scene. Since almost everyone in this world has cybernetic enhancement, many supporting characters have some bit of technology glued to their faces or mechanical arms or legs. High jumps and falls are on nearly constant display in the movie with characters losing limbs without expressing any pain. All of this future-tech is supposed to be so impressive we don’t worry about how painfully dull these people are.

The most interesting character is one of the least seen: Kuze. I don’t want to give away too much of his story as it is at the heart of the movie, but I wish the film had been more about him than Scarlett Johansson’s Major. His look is interesting and he speaks with what sounds like Steven Hawking if he got a more expressive voice generator. His movements are also robotic but also more fluid. As we learn more about him he becomes the most sympathetic character in the movie. I wanted to know more of his story but we only get a little information. While I doubt there will be a sequel, if there was I would want it to be about him.

The story is a well-worn combination of corporate greed and revenge. There’s nothing terribly unique or imaginative in the plot. Aside from the setting the story of “Ghost in the Shell” has been done a thousand times and has been done better.

“Ghost in the Shell” is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, intense sci-fi violence and suggestive content. There are numerous shootings but most show no blood. There are some fist fights and also a stabbing or two. We see the Major as her body is rebuilt after she is injured on a couple of occasions as well as when her brain is placed into her synthetic body. We also see an injection performed directly into her brain. There is a brief scene between the Major and a prostitute that is more sensual that sexual. There is very little if any foul language.

While a great deal of thought, effort and imagination was put into the look and style of “Ghost in the Shell,” the story and script appear to have been slapped together afterthoughts. From dull characters to a dull story, the only thing going for the film is impressive eye candy and in this case, that doesn’t refer to Ms. Johansson.

“Ghost in the Shell” gets two stars out of five.

Three films of faith, friendship and little blue people come to theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Case for Christ—

Going in Style—

Smurfs: The Lost Village—

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