Published on April 3rd, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls


Ghost in the Shell

The Ghost in the Shell live action remake hit theatres this weekend, but unfortunately, it’s all shell and no ghost – a bland, heartless action movie.

Born out of the techno-wizardry of countless sci-fi minds and presented to us in a visually-pleasing package, Ghost in the Shell still isn’t exactly the genre behemoth it possibly should be. To fans, it’s already a titan amongst its own brethren. To new audiences, we aren’t getting an exactly cohesive package to dig into here. Its CGI-stuffed futuristic thrills will probably be enough to satisfy roughly half of audiences, but as a whole this Ghost is dead inside.

As a viewing experience, Ghost in the Shell is a shallow undertaking. It’s easy to watch with such beautiful visuals and Scarlett Johansson tearing it up on screen. But it’s a movie strictly for your eyes and ears – no effort is put into bringing your brain or your heart into the conversation. The film has an impressive style to it but strains too hard to conjure up substance that just doesn’t materialize in a pleasing form. Eye candy does pass the time but you’re left without any nourishment.

Scarlett Johansson stars as Major – a synthetic law enforcement officer with a human mind. In a future where organic human beings can get body upgrades with new technology (i.e. an artificial liver so you can drink all day, every day) Major’s the first of her kind. So, naturally, she’s put to work as a weapon for The Man. Her scientist “mother,” Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), has kept the truth about Major’s true nature secret but a wave of attacks from a cyberterrorist threatens to let everything out in the open. Soon Major’s on her own with two sides closing in on her. Heard this one before?

It would be easy to write off Ghost in the Shell as another Matrix-y wannabe, but it’s important to remember the material’s sources: a Japanese manga series from the late 80s and an anime film from 1995 all established Major’s world and served as a major influence on people like the Wachowskis, who would go on to pay homage to Ghost in the Shell with The Matrix itself. There are countless other sci-fi tales built on the ideas Ghost birthed into the genre but perhaps none are as apparent as that 1999 seminal classic.

The production design of this Ghost in the Shell goes for a real Blade Runner meets The Fifth Element kinda vibe. It’s techno punk with a glossy sheen. It looks as if VFX alone accounted for the majority of the film’s reported $110 million budget. But futuristic costumes, hairstyles, and makeup are all also of the highest, most visually stunning quality. As a technical achievement, no expenses would appear to have been spared.

Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) does a passable enough job to keep the proceedings moving along but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that his storytelling sensibilities are overshadowed by his responsibility to the massive budget and the expectations of rabid fans. There are compositions that feel a little too immaculately constructed to be born out of the remake process. Instead it’s far likelier that the very best moments were lifted straight out of the original source material. There’s no personality to plant the film on and as a result it comes off as sterile instead of vibrant. It’s trying to act like a real movie instead of being one in its own right.

The actors aren’t given much to work with outside of posing and looking the part. Supporting players such as Pilou Asbaek (as Batou) and Takeshi Kitano (as Major’s police boss) aren’t pushed past their boundaries. Johansson, as in control as she is, also struggles to convey any meaning behind her admittedly astonishing physical performance. She’s one of the best action stars we’ve got in this day and age and one can only hope her next big role provides her with more to work with than Ghost in the Shell and the dreadful Lucy did.

When the CG bullets drop and the holographic projections cease to incite wonderment, where does Ghost in the Shell go? There’s little to recommend it on beyond its plentiful superficially attractive parts. Perhaps its worst sin is being so bland that it doesn’t inspire anyone to dig into the source material. This could have been the start of a new, beautiful relationship for many fresh faces in the crowd. Instead it’s just another missed opportunity and a title to be forgotten about past its opening weekend.

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is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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