“HONDA appear to be doing rather well for themselves in the future, in case you were concerned…”
Wayward Wolf Film Review.
Place a human brain atop the perfect body and what do you get? When the answer is ‘Scarlett Johansson’ there probably won’t be many in disagreement. But this is not necessarily a flippant, lustful homage to she from the rather aesthetically-pleasing Scandinavian gene pool. Instead, what we have here is the brain ‘rescued’ from a woman unfortunate to have been embroiled in a terrorist attack. This particular cerebral mass has been salvaged and implanted into a cyber-enhanced artificial body in order to create the ultimate fighting machine. An experimental yet soon to be key weapon and deterrent in a city’s fight against terrorism.
This 2017 re-working of the Ghost in the Shell is the latest take on a concept that originated as a Manga back in 1989 and has since been used to create films, TV series’ and video games, by all accounts. You could say it’s something of a Japanese institution.
Unable as I am personally to compare and contrast Hollywood’s new take on things with any of the franchise’s former incarnations, inquisitiveness nevertheless has led me to cast a cursory glance around the internet which has revealed something of a scathing air of disappointment surrounding Rupert Sanders’ film. It appears to have garnered very little of the reverential acclaim afforded its 1995 animated predecessor of the same name.
Set amidst the futuristic backdrop of a fictional Japanese city in the mid twenty-first century, the threat of terrorism is no longer just that of imminent physical destruction. There is now additionally the increasing issue of mind-hacking, and so it is clear that a special type of counter-threat will be required in order to keep that in check.
Step forward Major Motoko Kusanagi (Scarlett Johansson). Cast loose from the Hanka Robotics base in which she has been assembled, she sets about tracking down a particularly sinister hooded character, only, all is not as it seems. Given time it becomes apparent that not only is this supposed terrorism threat anything but, but that she herself is not quite the ground-breaking, unique creation that she’d been led to believe.
Visually, Ghost in the Shell ticks an awful lot of boxes and should be commended generously on this level. Fantastical sky-scraping backdrops of glowing neon are further adorned with assorted holographic advertising imagery – certainly HONDA appear to be doing rather well for themselves in the future, in case you were concerned – whilst a degree of industrial grime is retained at ground level; an uninviting world in which the financially-challenged ne’er-do-wells go about their dubious business. Massive amounts of impressively incorporated CGi is omni-present from start to finish, yet rarely if ever does it feel like overkill; somehow always relevant and integral to proceedings.
It’s a shame therefore that the irrefutably excellent visuals of Ghost in the Shell are not matched by the film’s general narrative and direction.
There’s something awfully flimsy and superficial about this particular movie-going experience, though the performances themselves can’t really be criticised. Johansson – ably supported by Juliette Binoche and Pilou Asbæk amongst others – portrays her part human / part cyborg character suitably well. Medium close up shots of her occasional dead-eyed pauses for thought and reflection, as she struggles to make sense of the frequent glitches that plague her confused mind – brought about by her old concealed reality poking through the firewall of her freshly installed, ‘new’ reality – are a particularly nice touch.
However, if the opinions of the wise sages of internet land are anything to go by, Ghost in the Shell has been stripped bare of its more complex and involving story arches in favour of a more straight forward action movie formula. No surprise there I suppose. Another unfortunate sacrifice at the Hollywood table of banal mediocrity.
Perhaps that’s a little harsh, although admittedly I did find my attention waning from time to time. The film is after all somewhat lacking in depth, tension and suspense, and struggles therefore to really sustain one’s interest. There’s also definitely a sense that the entire thing could have benefited from a slightly more risqué certification. Some scenes of combat – thwarted by the safety of the 12A rating as they are – possess neither energy nor impact. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need mad levels of gratuitous violence to be convinced, but I do need things to be a little more visceral, heart-felt and generally believable.
Perhaps it’s just a Manga thing? We should of course remind ourselves that this is, after all, comic book stuff, albeit comprised from slightly more adult themes.
Let’s end on a positive note though, namely, Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell’s electronic score. With its healthy influence of Vangelis shining through from time to time – it bleeps, squeaks, swoops and arpeggiates along nicely, perfectly encapsulating what the world of movies has insisted to us over the years that ‘the future’ actually sounds like. It’s a score that contributes heavily to the rather seductive, yet to all intents and purposes, deceptive aura that surrounds this Scarlett Johansson-centric blockbuster.
Ghost in the Shell, more than anything, offers yet another all too common opportunity to suspend our disbelief for a relatively inoffensive couple of hours of slightly entertaining, mildly perturbing activity, and I guess if that’s your bag, then more power to you.