'Ghost in the Shell' review: Scarlett Johansson's latest a visual spectacle, but not much else
Ghost in the Shell
- Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk
- Directed by: Rupert Sanders
- Written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
- Duration: 106 minutes
Low on ghost; big on shell — Ghost in the Shell is eminently forgettable but often fantastic to look at.
The Japanese manga series comes to life with Scarlett Johansson as Major, a crime-fighting human/cyborg hybrid we see being created at the top of the movie.
Her body was destroyed by accident but Major’s brain is preserved and placed in an almost indestructible robot container. We watch her breathe, waken and return to consciousness, and it’s wonderful and disturbing: she’s alive, says the scientist (Juliette Binoche) who put her together; she’s a weapon, says Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), the nasty guy from big, bad Hanka Corp.
A year later, and Major’s job is to fight the bad guys. She’s part of Section 9, a special counter-cyberterrorist group led by the wise Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano).
There’s a super-creepy take-down scene to kick off the action — what the hell is that geisha/robot/spidery thing?! — and Major shows up in time to crack heads and shoot villains.
Turns out someone is trying to kill officials and scientists associated with Hanka Corp. They’re hacking into the brains of these Hanka employees!
With her police partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Major tries to find the mysterious Fuze (Michael Pitt) and find out why he seeks vengeance on Hanka. We’re pretty sure you’ll figure all that out without too much trouble, but what’s entailed is fighting, explosions, and characters dissolving into a trillion little pieces. (If you saw Snow White and the Huntsman, then you know that the director, Rupert Sanders, is a dab hand at turning people and objects into bits and bites.)
Ghost in the Shell unfolds in the futuristic New Port City, a chaotic place full of noise and bright colours — skyscrapers and massive holographic commercials. The city has plenty of dark, seedy corners, too, with all manner of yakuza-looking desperadoes scurrying about. It’s all sort of vaguely familiar, in a Blade Runner-ish sort of way, but never mind.
Moving through the scenery is the determined, rubber-suited Major; after all the razzle-dazzle visual stuff on the screen starts to get old, Johansson will still hold your attention.
As Major, she is meant to be the first of her kind — the perfect marriage between humanity and technology. Johansson moves in a vaguely robotic fashion; the way she turns her head, for example, has just a hint of the machine about it, and sometimes her physical movements seem deliberate and not-quite-human.
It’s a convincing performance.
Her body may now be just a cyber-enhanced shell, but her brain and essence — or ‘ghost’ — are intact. So vague memories from her past sometimes puzzle or confuse her. Major is able to articulate her loneliness and her sense of being cut-off from flesh-and-blood humans.
She stares at herself in the mirror. She interrogates a woman about being human. She has those troubling flashes of memory … what does it all mean?
Alas, not much. Major must discover her own past to make peace with the present.
What are these shreds of memory?
“We cling to our memories as if they define us,” her scientist friend tells Major, “But what we do defines us.”
In case you miss it the first go-round, that little bit of philosophy is repeated in voice-over as the story wraps up.
Anyway, here’s the point: It’s the humanity, stupid.
In the end, that’s all that counts.
Pity nobody told the writers.