Ghost in the Shell is based on the Japanese manga of the same name and takes place in a future where the line between humans and robots is becoming blurred. After a vehicle crash victim’s brain is placed in a cyborg’s body to become the perfect killing machine, she begins to question her past and purpose for existing. Johansson stars alongside Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han and Juliette Binoche as Rupert Sanders directs.
In case you haven’t seen the 2014 film Lucy, I’m going to spoil it in this paragraph but that film is so awful that if you haven’t seen it by now you clearly don’t care, nor should you. That film is all about the human brain and what it’s truly capable of, and ends with Johansson accessing 100% of her mind and literally turning into a flash drive. This film starts with her getting her consciousness placed in a robotic body, so it really could (jokingly) be taken as a follow-up to “Lucy.” And that would also make sense because just like Lucy, Ghost in the Shell is a convoluted mess that is way less smart than it thinks it is, and features a charismatic-less Johansson again making a poor career choice.
I was intrigued by the trailers to this film. It looked visually striking and seemed to be asking a few interesting questions about humanity and the impact technology has on us. Some people complained that casting Johansson in the lead role meant for an Asian actress was whitewashing, but that’s the reality of the Hollywood system and what it takes to get/make money. But that’s another story for another day.
There is a lot wrong with the film but let’s start with the plot. I’m sure when the original work was published in 1989 the idea of humans getting cybernetic limbs and other enhancements was groundbreaking and even far-fetched but nowadays it seems right around the corner. And the script doesn’t try and do anything new with the “humans merging with robots” storyline that we have seen dozens of times. Even the whole selling point of the film, “what makes us human” and “do we have souls,” is an undercooked thought. Johannson runs around the entire time trying to find one person for reasons we don’t really know, and gives half-baked existential lines along the way. We don’t know who character are or why they’re doing what they’re doing, and we don’t care.
The pacing of the film is also off. While the first hour is admittedly fast enough, the remaining 45 minutes drag along before the film suddenly ends. I had no idea that I was watching the climax of the film, the big showdown between our hero and the bad guy, until after it was over and everything feels so anticlimactic I almost felt like laughing. The film doesn’t bother to really answer any of the big questions it poses but, again, you don’t care.
The visuals of the film are cool-looking enough in a vast futuristic Tokyo-esque city. Giant hologram advertisements and neon signs draw our eyes to the skyline, and the choreography of the fighting sequences is well done. I’ve talked to a friend who read the manga and he said there are many shots in the film that are ripped right off the page perfectly, so fans of the franchise should enjoy that. Much like his other film “Snow White and the Huntsman” director Rupert Sanders knows how to make a scene look good; it just seems how to craft an engaging narrative seems to again escape his grasp.
Ghost in the Shell is one of those bad movies that isn’t totally terrible; you just don’t care about anything you’re watching. Johansson seems either bored or miscast in the lead role, and the visuals can’t fully distract you from the convoluted plot and undeveloped characters you’re given. There are better sci-fi films out there and with movie ticket prices continuing to climb, there is no reason you should make this one of the times you go out and buy one.