"Ghost in the Shell" Review

Title: Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlette Johansson
Studio: DreamWorks Pictures
Genre(s): Science Fiction/Action
Rated: PG-13 (For intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images)

Very few movies have had the impact that Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” have had over the years.  One of the first anime films to break out in a big way in the world as a whole (and not just in its native country of Japan), the movie was cool, stylistic, and thoughtful about a world that was not only depending on technology to run their lives, but also may have inadvertently predicted the transgender movement, where characters change who they are on the outside despite who they are on the inside. In preparation for this new live action version directed by Rupert Sanders, many theaters theatrically re-released the original movie in theaters, and it was amazing to hear the conversations of an audience in the lobby who were now older, maybe a little wiser, and certainly aware of the fact that movie’s underlying themes weren’t as revolutionary anymore because of the fact some of them are now true. 

I don’t believe DreamWorks live action remake will inspire the kind of philosophical discussion the original did.  Partly because the original came out at a time when the idea of an animated movie tackling adult ideas and themes was truly rare, and partly because Sanders seems trapped by a studio system that is more interested in selling “Ghost in the Shell” as a potential new franchise to teenagers.  That does not mean the movie is doomed to fail from the get go, only that its motivations are very different this time around.  When you were making an animated film back in the 80’s, you didn’t care much for star power, but a franchise starter these days requires one, and so Scarlett Johansson was tapped to play lead protagonist Major Mira Killian.  Her casting has been dogged with controversy since day one from social justice warriors as “whitewashing” because the character is supposed to be of Asian ethnicity.

Let’s clear something up right now: her character is that of a robot.  For that matter, Johansson looks a lot like the character, which seems to be the entire point of casting someone in a specific role in the first place.  Finally, she’s very good in the role (and there is a scene that makes all the whitewashing complaints seem very silly and misguided).  She can go from jumping off a building almost completely naked (though with enough of a cover to ensure the film receives its market friendly PG-13 rating), shoot up lots of robots with big guns, and then go home to wonder about her past life.  The title refers to the fact that in the future most of humanity is partly made of machine, but she is a rare specimen that is all robot on the outside, but has a human brain on the inside.  That makes her sort of a hybrid car of sorts in this world, but the movie is only partially able to convey this very important fact.

There are many scenes where the Major ponders what her life before being a hybrid was like, but she never seems to struggle with it.  How she was manipulated to being a soldier is never fully understood.  At one point, there is a strong suggestion that people who have robotic parts can be given artificial memories that never happened, but the movie never goes into why a company would do that and what purpose it would serve.  Major’s partner is a big man by the name of Batou (Pilou Asbaek), who appears to be the love interest, but the sexuality is toned done in this movie so much for marketability that I walked out wondering if they decided to go in a different direction altogether in the end.  The film is torn between honoring the source materials tough questions and being a marketable action franchise.  On the other hand, the one area I can’t complain with is the visuals.

For years’ people were worried that a live action “Ghost in the Shell” would sully the look of the world the anime brought us, and I am happy to report this is not the case.  All it takes is five minutes of watching to understand that they got the look right.  If you wondered how they would be able to film something like “Ghost in the Shell,” now you can go see it and see that this is how they would do it, and many of the action scenes are top notch.  However, I think the visuals also became an enemy here.  In animation, it costs the same amount of money to animate something, whether it’s two characters talking or a car chase.  In live action there is a clear different in costs, and some of the action scenes drag on for so long, I wonder if the film makers felt compelled to use the special effects they were forced to spend so much money on?  Never mind.

I believe the biggest irony is that this comes out while “Beauty & the Beast” is still in theaters.  In both cases we have live action remakes of classic films that are practically perfect.  We all agree that there is virtually no way to improve on the source material, yet we flock to see them because it sort of reminds us of those movies.  Both make slight changes to the material.  Although in the case of “Ghost in the Shell” the changes are fairly substantial.  Most of the third act is very different from the original movie, letting the audience know clearly that this movie exists for different reasons than the original.  Sure, there were sequels to the original movie made, but they are so dialog driven, place such an emphasis on ideology, that I certainly suspect no studio would want to make them.  They aren’t investing $100 million dollars to make sequels that force audiences to think.  The ending makes that very clear, which is the most frustrating thing about it when all is said and done


Parents, there is a lot of science fiction violence, some mild language, and lots of implied nudity.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.