3 out of 5 stars
Everyone around me, they feel connected to something. Connected to something, I'm not.’ - Major
For those who are unfamiliar with the cult classic status of Mamoru Oshii's 1995 anime classic Ghost in the Shell, they need merely try to find it on the shelves at your local shop. It is a film that has influenced a generation of filmmakers and set a standard for action films that still holds its own with multiple screenings. The visuals will be familiar to audiences since they have been sampled by many modern films over the past 20 years.The breakthrough effects, animation and storyline meant a live-action film was inevitable, but who would want to take on the fan base’s love of the original? Since Dreamworks acquired the property in 2008, the scrutiny has been the talk of comic-con and cosplay events around the world. Then with the announcement of Scarlett Johansson (Captain America: Civil War) as Major, it has been labeled as a ‘whitewashed’ project by western audiences, but not in Japan, where audiences did not find her casting offensive. The hope would be that people would be able to move past the controversies and judge the film and its female lead on their own merits.
As she wakes on a table in the laboratory in Hanka Robotics, this is the first time that Major becomes aware of her unique existence. She is the first successful cyborg combination of a robotic body that houses a human brain. This unique situation is identified as ‘the ghost in the shell’ which harkens back to Arthur Koestler’s book, Ghost in the Machine. Her identity is intact and she is self-aware, but her memories of the horrific accident her family experienced were suppressed for her own benefit. Her brain was spared to inhabit the latest technology that will be used to serve in the government’s counter-cyberterrorism unit called Section 9. As Major battles the latest cyber adversary, Kruz (Michael Pitt) she becomes connected to an undiscovered network that exposes her to the truths of her past. With the team of enhanced humans in Section 9, she must find the answers to her past life while attempting to fight the forces that are trying to sabotage the work of Hanka and the government.
Taking on the daunting task of helping this live-action project, director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) has delivered an action-packed and visually beautiful, but lifeless interpretation of the original. A virtual ghost within a beautiful shell. The visual effects and the stunt work honour the comic book and the anime classic, but the sanitation of the gunplay and the script leave the criminal underworld less than convincing. In an attempt to make this film more accessible to a younger audience, Sanders has made for a futuristic bloodless battle between good and evil. This could be considered a win for audiences who are concerned with excessive violence, but unfortunately it neuters most of the action sequences to the point of being boring.
What does help to salvage the film are the performances by the lead actors. Johansson proves that she is the best choice for action films through her physicality and ability to bring a human element to this cyborg character. In her search for her past and identity, she is able to convey this internal search without sacrificing the plasticine persona of Major. Her crime fighting partner, Batou, is played with measured intensity by Danish actor Pilou Asbæk. He shows that he can manage the role of protector and strength that is needed for a hulking figure that must keep his physical attraction to his partner in check. Then to have the support of seasoned talent like Takeshi Kitano and Juliet Binoche made for an exceptional cast to support the familiar storyline.
The original Ghost in the Shell will continue to maintain the label of classic. It was not merely an anime classic, but a film that set the benchmark for action, visuals and a strong female action hero. Sanders' live-action version on its own is a good action film that should please audiences, but it is a mere shadow of Oshii's masterclass in filmmaking.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
What does it mean to be human? It is the existential question that has plagued philosophers, theologians and university professors for centuries. Ghost in the Shell brings forward this concept in a violent and thought provoking manner. The Bible states that we are made in the image of God, which means that God has a special place for us. So, what is the consideration for the definition of what it is to be human?
1. What does the Bible say about being human? (Genesis 2 & 3)
2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
3. What is the value of family? (John 15:12-17, Ephesians 3:14-15)