Ghost in the Shell (2017)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/31/17 11:54:52
Considering the way that Paramount Pictures was going out of the way to try to avoid showing “Ghost in the Shell” to critics in advance, one might have expected some kind of all-out disaster in the making—even “Monster Trucks,” a film that they had so little confidence in that they took an enormous tax write-off on it months before it even arrived in theaters, was screened for the press before it was unleashed on the public and tanked. Unfortunately, the film isn’t even interesting enough to be the kind of misconceived monstrosity whose missteps might have at least been of some mild interest to film maudit buffs. This is just a terrible and terribly done bore that will annoy genre fans and neophytes in equal measure.This travesty of the hugely popular 1995 sci-fi anime, itself an adaptation of the equally beloved manga from Masamune Shirow, features Scarlett Johansson as Major, a construct said to be the first of her kind—a human brain and consciousness rescued from a terrorist attack that destroyed her physical body and now housed inside a cybernetic form that looks absolutely spectacular in the form-fitting bodysuit that she dons while fighting dangerous criminals as part of an elite crime-fighting unit. Her latest target is Kuze (Michael Pitt), a mysterious cyber-terrorist who takes advantage of mankind’s move towards augmenting their own physical bodies with cybernetic upgrades (such as a super-charged liver to facilitate heavy drinking) by hacking in and controlling them to do his bidding. Major eventually catches up with Kuze and learns from him that not only is she not the first of her kind, her life wasn’t so much saved by scientists as it was stolen by a government hell-bent on creating a perfect weapon. Armed with this new information, Major goes off on her own to uncover who she really is/was while the powers-that-be try to stop here before she can blow the lid off of everything.
In transforming “Ghost in the Shell” into a hugely expensive, live-action super-production, much of the narrative from the 1995 film has been jettisoned by the army of screenwriters employed here. This is not necessarily a problem in theory since that original film had a strong theme—an exploration of the possibilities and perils of mankind’s increasingly dependent relationship on technology—that helped overcome some occasionally murky storytelling and also because the ideas from that film have been “borrowed” by any number of other genre favorites over the past 20 years. What they have come up with, however, is a willfully incoherent mess that spends more time copying from the films that copied from the original “Ghost in the Shell” than in creating an interesting story of its own. In a move that could have been audacious, the story goes out of the way to essentially comment on the most controversial aspect of this version—the casting of an American actress in a role that many perceived as being Japanese in origin (though to be fair, the character did not especially read as being entirely Japanese in that film and the world it depicted was seen as one big melting pot) —with Major’s exploration of who she once was but the payoff is so badly mishandled that the whole thing actually does become kind of offensive, even to those who weren’t put off by the casting in the first place. As for Johansson, she looks spectacular but even though she is one of the few actresses out there capable of handling scenes involving thought-provoking drama and ass-kicking action, she more or less sleepwalks through the role throughout—she is more alive and alert in the eye-catching posters for the film hanging in the lobby than in the film itself. At first glance, it is impressive to look at but once that initial rush has subsided, director Rupert Sanders (whose previous film was the equally ghastly “Snow White and the Huntsman”) has nothing else of interest to offer and indeed, the most striking moments on display are the ones that are virtually shot-for-shot recreations of moments from the animated version.A lot of time, money and talent (with art-house faves like Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano popping up in the cast to negligible effect, though the presence of the former will amuse anyone who happened to see her in “Clouds of Sils Maria”) went into the making of “Ghost in the Shell” but the payoff is so negligible for anyone other than those who want to lust over Scar Jo in her fetish wear that you will be left wondering why they bothered in the first place. This is especially frustrating because with all of those advantages working in conjunction with such strong source material, one would think that something memorable—or at least engagingly weird—might have resulted. Alas, instead of the cult classic that it clearly wants to be, this version of “Ghost in the Shell” somehow manages to come up short even in comparison to that equally misbegotten live-action version of “Aeon Flux” that you probably forgot about until this very moment.
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