About the best thing I can say about the Rupert Sanders directed Ghost in the Shell is that it’s not exactly terrible. It has absolutely stunning visuals, several actors that do decent to good jobs with the material, and a storyline that should be interesting. But ultimately, for a movie that’s based on material concerned with the strength of the human spirit/soul (ghost, if you will), the end result is sadly soulless.

Going into the theater, I was of course quite familiar with the charges of whitewashing, something covered a couple of weeks ago by Simon here at Latin for Cat. Having seen the movie, I agree that this is definitely an issue. In the originating material, Major’s right-hand man, Batou, is possibly, even likely of European background. But that’s it – the rest of the characters, including Major, are clearly Japanese. After all, the source material is set in a xenophobic Japan within a highly provincial future world. Several characters (Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Ouelet, Anamaria Marinca’s Dr. Dahlin) are made out of whole cloth, and several that are clearly Japanese (Ishikawa, Kuze) are played by non-Asian actors. The people behind the movie can handwave all they want about the android bodies being merely shells (and thus potentially of any race – but this only pertains to Major of the characters mentioned in any case), but when you’re creating new characters and recasting others, it’s a problem, one they could have easily avoided.

As that’s been covered extensively elsewhere, on to the movie itself.

Things I liked:

  • Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano) as Section 9 chief Aramaki – his stoicism and quiet effectiveness were, for me, the acting highlight of the film
  • The visual effects – some of the finest I’ve seen. The CG was seamless, and the practical effects were beautifully integrated – I thought the geisha-bot scene was particularly well done
  • Batou (Pilou Asbæk) – as Major’s right-hand man, point for Section 9, he was played with a combination of humor and toughness that really brought him to the fore

Things I didn’t like:

  • The forced nature of the story. Major needs to find out some pretty hard truths in order to initiate her character arc, but in the context of a sub-two hour movie, they felt rushed and unrealistic
  • An over-reliance on the impressive visuals. Coming from two highly visual mediums (manga and later the anime) known for over-the-top visuals, I think that Sanders may have felt he had to directly mimic this style. What it leads to is sensory overload at times
  • A rushed ending that had too many characters making too many fundamental changes without enough clear motivation

I can’t really say more without giving away plot points, but do note that I don’t place Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Major in either of the above categories. She is quite serviceable in her role, and is able to summon up the requisite emotions and lack thereof as needed. She is not the problem with this film.

While not entirely terrible, the movie is also not particularly good. Its lack of soul, rushed push through to the finish, unclear motivations, and an over-reliance on visual effects mean that this is, ultimately, a shell of an action film.

Steve’s Rating: 5.5 Stars (5.5 / 10)
There is no ghost in this shell. You’re better off watching the anime films currently available on Netflix, or better yet, tracking down a copy of the original manga.

Bonus: Here’s a video featuring former Mythbuster Adam Savage learning all about how the geisha-bots work in the movie:

Link: IMDB Entry for Ghost in the Shell

Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Shirow Masamune (based on the comic “The Ghost in the Shell” by); Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger (screenplay)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere
Release Date: March 31, 2017
Runtime: 1 hr. 47 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13