Ghost in the Shell (2017)

For being based upon Masamune Shirow's manga that inspired the 1996 anime, which in turn inspired a lot of steampunk entertainments that adopted its imagery and attitude, this new Ghost in the Shell is rather startlingly bereft of much innovation or genuine wonder. It puts up a good facade, featuring a futuristic city that, like those of the sci-fi masterpieces that inspired the original manga, offers images and visual ideas we haven't really seen before. The problem is the screenplay (loosely adapting the original manga this time, instead of performing a live-action remake of the anime) by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Krueger, which expends too much energy upon the explanation of the particulars of its plot and not enough on exploring its ideas.

Those ideas aren't allowed to breathe here. Take our heroine, who, like so many in New Port City, is part human and part cybernetic. Her name is Mira Killion, although she is known simply as "Major" to the team with which she fights corruption within Hanka Robotics, the makers of the cybernetic upgrades. She has hallucinatory intrusions of a past that contradicts the one she has been informed brought her to the point of becoming a cybernetic/human hybrid. Eventually that mystery, which really isn't much of one, must be confronted by Major and another character who shares her past, but apart from some lip service paid to the issue of Major's identity, the existence of the mystery is only to further the plot and to set up a potential film series based around this world.

Scarlett Johansson plays Major in a performance that is, admittedly, fascinating to watch. In terms of expressiveness, the actress plays the role with a bit too much deadpan, but the gait and stature of her walk signify nothing more or less than a robot that is programmed to do a job. It's a physically intimidating and impressive performance when the film calls upon Major to use her particular set of skills. The plot finds her teaming up with team leader Aramaki ("Beat" Takeshi Kitano) and fellow team members Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Han (Chin Han), and Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) to overthrow Hanka Robotics chief Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), until a new threat emerges in their midst in the form of Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who can hack any cybernetic device for his own purposes.

Pitt's performance is one of the few elements that works here, with his unnerving, mechanical stutter and the expertly executed design work on a body mangled by cybernetic parts. All of the visual effects, in fact, are creatively conceived, and even if some of them are imprecise, credit is due to the creativity of the effects department for cooking up some of the visual treats on display. It's all frilly decor around an empty shell of a movie that exists to sell a potential franchise, though, with scenes of gunplay and combat that remind of every other example in this genre and a climactic set piece that introduces a "spider tank" that just shoots stuff that explodes when the cartridges hit it. Ghost in the Shell has a kernel of a neat idea to explore the connection between humanity and artificiality, and then it moves quickly backward in alarm from such thoughtfulness.

Film Information

Scarlett Johansson (Major), Pilou Asbaek (Batou), "Beat" Takeshi Kitano (Aramaki), Juliette Binoche (Dr. Ouelet), Michael Carmen Pitt (Kuze), Chin Han (Han), Danusia Samal (Ladriya), Lasarus Ratuere (Ishikawa), Yutaka Izumihara (Saito), Tawanda Manyimo (Borma), Peter Ferdinando (Cutter).

Directed by Rupert Sanders and written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Krueger, based on the manga The Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow.

Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence, suggestive content, disturbing images).

106 minutes.

Released on March 31, 2017.

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