Ghost in the Shell (PG13)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano
Directed by Rupert Sanders
In Ghost in the Shell, a Frankenstein-gone-cyberpunk thriller, Scarlett Johansson plays a cyborg cop — simply known for the most part as The Major —who’s troubled by residual memories of a past life, a phantom pain that reminds her that she was once flesh and blood before her consciousness (‘ghost’) is uploaded into a souped-up, patented robotic frame (‘shell’).
I know the feeling. Kinda. What’s the moviegoer with an exceptional memory to do when confronted with Ghost? Because the source material — an manga series by Masamune Shirow, which was later turned into an equally admired anime by Mamoru Oshii — was so influential to cinema’s greatest sci-fi auteurs (James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, the Wachowskis, just to name a few) and because it has taken sooo long to get made, just about everything in Ghost had every been cherry-picked and repurposed by other hits. (The Wachowskis, for instance, stole from it the digital ‘rain’ of green numbers to signify cyberspace in The Matrix.)
Analyse Ghost’s DNA further and you’ll find traces of Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, both predate the manga by a few years. It’s a slippery slope, boys and girls, so let’s not go there — it can keep you up all night. That said, the more that’s revealed of Ghost, the more derivative it looks. (It's called 'The John Carter Effect'.)
Beautiful and stylish, yes, but derivative. At times, the movie, like its hero, suffers from an identity crisis.
You have to hand it to director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and his team: the production values are top-notch. (The aerial shots of the soligram — or solid holograms — hovering over the metropolis look like something out of Pokemon Go.) But sometimes you sense that their desire to make a movie with grown-up stuff (just like the original Ghost) is chained down by a PG13 rating, requiring them to deliver something sexy yet safe enough for the mass consumption. A little too safe, perhaps. The result: an entertaining distraction without being exciting.
Pity more effort isn’t spent on the characters. With the exception of Johansson’s The Major, the rest of the multi-ethnic ensemble — including ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano and Chin Han as The Major’s cohorts at Section 9, the anti-cyber-terrorism squad — is criminally under-used.
ScarJo is the heart and soul of the movie. She can kick ass alright, but haven’t we seen her do that in Lucy and those Marvel destruct-a-thons? It’s the quieter moments where she stands down and unveils a vulnerable side, one of a wandering soul lost in transition. Without saying too much, the big revelation plays on the whitewashing controversy that has bombarded Ghost since day one. It’ll also have you thinking: does race and gender still matter, if you're a ghost?
Now, that’s another question that’ll keep you up all night. (3 stars)