Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Carmen Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano
Runtime: 106 Minutes
There isn’t really a great deal to be gained from a great deal of discussion regarding Ghost in the Shell's current place in the blockbuster landscape; a belated and predictable Hollywood adaptation of the influential Japanese manga. The issue really derives from the fact that the original source material – in particular, the 1995 anime – has been pored over in excruciating detail and analysis and been stripped bare by the collective consciousness in popular culture for two decades now. Nothing about the visual spectrum or evocative imagery of said production can be seen by modern eyes as anything wholly original anymore – and this 2017 live-action version does little to tend to this inherent requirement in order to keep it a stimulating watch.
The best thing to say about this new version is that it looks kind of beautiful at moments, at least from a purely visual and cinematographic perspective. Replicating the same basic images and motions of some of the ‘95 film (and the original manga), with crisp digital photography and a sterilised and chromatic landscape of Blade Runner-esque imagery, the look of the film is still something rather sumptuous. The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is pleasant in its reconstitution of certain motifs and sounds. It’s just a shame that director Rupert Sanders does little else to evoke a sense of wonder in his staging of sequences, the editing of the film and its compositional transitions between separate scenes and locations, or even an originality to the presentation of the action sequences (what few there are to be found). Often resting on the comfortable crutches of slow-motion and stoic and uninvolving camera positions.
Besides the basic setting, characters and stylistic sensibilities within the aesthetic of that original film, the narrative that has been saddled with this admittedly unique looking universe is that of a traditional and boringly constructed mystery. The quest for identity is what drives Scarlett Johansson’s new iteration of Major; an iconic character who is here reduced to nothing more than a narrative cipher. The film has a scattered cast of characters of distinct design, many of which are performed well but without a great deal of actual character to work with – with Takeshi Kitano and Pilou Asbæk trying the hardest to register.
Johansson does a decent job here as she is at this point well attuned to playing emotionally detached figures of mechanical thought process and otherworldly qualities, but the decision to play up the emotionality of the character as she struggles to retain her humanity in a mechanical form is a reductive estimation of what could be a far more fascinating dissection of the complexities of artificial intelligence, what constitutes life in a physical form and the transcendent and fluid constructs of gender and race. Instead, we are led down an all too familiar and all too easily resolved Hollywood version of events, punctuated with underwhelming and trivial set pieces.
Speaking of race, while the casting of Johansson is a genuine issue inherent to the system of western media consumption and marketing processes, it doesn’t necessitate that it couldn’t bring to the table an interesting conversation regarding the appropriation of the idealised female form, as well as the function and importance of race within certain societies. But what does make this all the more concerning is a shockingly tone-deaf and sightless twist toward the end of the film that makes this assumed misappropriation all the more difficult to stomach with its flabbergasting ineptitude to justify itself.
Overall though, Ghost in the Shell is just kind of boring and predictable. Its borrowed elements leave none of its visuals memorable, with a storyline so tired and conventional that it’s not enough to recommend as an engaging experience.