ON IN CINEMAS
Ghost in the Shell
It is the distant future. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a “Ghost in the Shell”. The Hanka Corporation has rescued her spirit and bestowed upon her a new, cybernetically-enhanced body after her old form has perished in a terrorist attack on a refugee boat she was aboard. One year later and she is carrying out missions for Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano).
In her latest venture she tries to save a Hanka scientist from being brain-hacked by a corrupted Geisha robot, but unfortunately she arrives on the scene too late. Back at HQ they learn that a number of other high-ranking corporation scientists have suffered the same fate. Against the advice of Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the scientist who revived her in this new form, she decides to dive into the mind of the Geisha robot and find out who reprogrammed it. She discovers the location of a mysterious hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt), and heads off on a mission with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) to take him down. However, in the process of carrying this out she discovers some shocking truths about both Kuze and herself.
This live action adaptation of the cult cyberpunk manga-turned-anime is certainly visually impressive. The vast urban landscapes consisting of sprawling canyons of grey concrete, bedecked with huge holographic figures and woven through with car-cluttered raised freeways are an impressive representation of the original’s visual ethic. There are imaginative design touches and intricately worked-out details everywhere you look, from the Geisha robots attempting to make spider-like escapes up the wall to evade attack, or the streets cluttered with endless store signs and holographic fish that swim through the crowds. The trouble is that once you take away the visuals, everything else about the original seems to have been flattened out in its transition from the drawing pencil to the set.
The all-important humanity (a crucial core theme as Major attempts to reconstruct her human identity) just isn’t there. Scarlett Johansson’s performance doesn’t make the transition from robotic super-agent to a newly re-humanised self. Bar one moment where she brings a little vulnerability to her part (the scene where she jumps into the mind of the Geisha robot is followed by her gasping for breath on a link-up table after she is assaulted by a security mechanism), she remains stuck firmly in the robotic. It’s the same for the rest of the cast. Pilou Asbaek sounds like he’s essaying his lines half-heartedly having never read them prior to the take we see on the screen. Dialogue that’s supposed to be wisecracks is delivered as enthusiastically as an adolescent reading out a telephone directory. Takeshi Kitano has done some great work as actor and director in the past, but here you really wonder why he didn’t avoid another cyberpunk movie appearance after the disaster of Johnny Mnemonic (1995). Juliette Binoche comes across like she’s miserable just being on set, and who can blame her?
Even the action sequences falter as some admittedly stylish shots are immediately ruined by being cut together through angles that don’t complement each other. To add to the woes the graphic violence of the original is toned down in favour of (theoretically audience-maximising) PG-13/12A certificates on the two sides of the pond. The filmmakers should be strapped down and forced to watch the two John Wick films back-to-back to learn how it really should be done.
The overall takeaway feeling after watching Ghost in the Shell is one of undeniable boredom. Go and watch the original anime film, its sequel or the spin-off Stand Alone Complex TV series instead. If you want to see a live action cyberpunk movie done properly, watch Blade Runner if you haven’t done so 20 times already, or wait for (fingers crossed) the Denis Villeneuve-directed Blade Runner 2049 that’s due to arrive later this year.
Runtime: 107 mins
Dir: Rupert Sanders
Script: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger, from a manga by Masamune Shirow
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Michael Wincott