A pretty decent “Blade Runner”/“Matrix”/“Fifth Element” blend that will no doubt draw criticism from hardcore manga fans, “Ghost In The Shell” is stimulating enough visually to warrant a view (if not necessarily requiring a visit to the theater).
I am not of the fanatical ScarJo camp, she who’s managed through the last several action/thriller with scarcely a twitch in expression (the mess that is “Lucy”, and the artsy and eerie “Under the Skin”), but she’s certainly capable of heading a serviceable sci-fi flick. Written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger based on Masamune Shirow’s Dark Horse graphic novel and subsequent anime films, “Ghost in the Shell” feels conceptually incomplete; if that means there will be a sequel, it’s doubtful that it will hew any closer to the source material.
At the same time, director Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) has taken on a heavy task, attempting to convert such an obscure and revered piece of social commentary for our current age of technology that is a lot more timely to the core of Shirow’s complex world than the original. The line between fact and fiction is blurring, much like the delineation of human and robot in this movie.
The most extreme example is Johansson’s Major, a robot with a transplanted human brain, though one wouldn’t know by her lack of emotion. Her past a mystery, the accident from which she was saved a mere blur, Major is an operative for Section 9, an anti-terrorist unit run by an oracle-like figure (Takeshi Kitano, absolutely fantastic in his few scenes) for which she and frost-haired partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) track a formidable cyber killer who infiltrates and murders executives of the very tech company who pioneered the soul salvaging experiment from which Johansson’s character was spawned.
In some parts sterile, in others grungy, the film translates into an interesting experience, more than a simple action flick but far from cerebral. Admittedly, the anime original is a hazy memory for me, and Sanders’ version has tread marks from the cog of Hollywood that don’t really befit the theme that struggles to surface.
The wonderful Juliette Binoche plays the scientist who cares for Major when she needs a tune up (or the occasional memory wipe). Probably the most human of the characters, if not then second to Asbæk’s loyal, dog-loving paramilitary side-kick/hero, Binoche clearly wants to act—sometimes difficult in a place where almost everyone some sort of synthetic appendage or USB port in their head, and a cardboard-thin villain who is reminiscent of the evil CEO in the last “Resident Evil” chapter.
If you’re in it for some cool action, “Ghost” won’t be hard to sit through at all. The presumably Japanese landscape make present-day Tokyo look like some dark corner of the Earth, and the action sequences are tightly wound and aesthetically stimulating. Back when “Johnny Mnemonic” came out, this sort of thing fell safely in the realm of science fiction, while now filmmakers have to reach much further to reach the purely fictional aspect of the genre. Invisible battle suits might still be beyond the purview of even the most cutting edge scientists, but mind-hacking and giant networks in which humans can all but telepathically connect doesn’t feel that far beyond online gaming.
This updated “Ghost in the Shell” could have been more relevant if it had done a little more with the premise. But settling for fun futuristic eye candy with some very well choreographed fight scenes, it is at least above average. It might be nice to see Scarlett break from her rigid mold for the upcoming raunch comedy “Rough Night”.
M. Parsons – 2017
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