Release date: 30th March 2017/Watch the trailer here
In a Hollywood that currently thrives on remakes and reboots, it’s almost surprising that it has taken more than twenty years to spin out a live-action adaptation of Japanese director Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated film Ghost in the Shell, based on the manga of the same title. The original became a huge phenomenon thanks to the thought-provoking questions of humanity and identity that it raised, and it went on to act as direct inspiration for films such as The Matrix and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Meanwhile, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell has so far done little but generate controversy by casting Scarlett Johansson as Major, the story’s protagonist. The remake (directed by Rupert Sanders) goes to great lengths to explain why Major’s artificial ‘shell’ is that of a white woman, but there’s still no denying that it would have made much more sense (and felt a lot more progressive) to cast an Asian actress in the role.
Ghost in the Shell is set in a not-so-distant future, where Major is the first of her kind: a human mind (or ‘ghost’), saved from a terrible accident and placed inside a cyber-enhanced shell to act as the perfect weapon; a soldier devoted to stopping dangerous terrorists. When a new criminal emerges – Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), a hacker with the ability to access people’s minds and control them – Major and her team are the only ones able to stop him. However, Major soon discovers that she has been lied to all along – that rather than her life being saved, it was stolen from her by the shadowy robotics company who created her cybernetic shell.
Frustratingly, Ghost in the Shell veers away from most of the deeper themes of the original, instead choosing to spoon-feed its relatively basic plot to the audience, and as a result it feels far more hollow than a film of its genre should. Johansson doesn’t help in adding much depth, either – she has the cyber side of Major down to a T, with robotic mannerisms and a heavy-footed stride hinting at the disconnect between her brain and her body. It’s the brain that she appears to struggle with, though: there’s very little that feels human about the blank mechanisms of her performance, making for a distinct lack of personality that is sorely needed when carrying an entire film on your shoulders.
What really saves Ghost in the Shell from being a by the book, generic action blockbuster is its appearance; its ‘shell’ making up for what its ‘ghost’ lacks. This is the very rarest of films, the kind that practically begs to be seen in 3D, so that the skyscrapers of its unnamed Japanese city – dominated by giant, holographic advertisements – can truly come to life. The world that Ghost in the Shell has created is staggering in its intricacy, making it far more immersive than its plot demands. On a visual basis, it’s a sheer, jaw-dropping masterpiece, creating the most detailed and believable sci-fi setting that we’ve seen in years. Still, an attractive exterior, no matter how impressive, will never be able to fully distract from an empty interior, and that is where Ghost in the Shell falls down.