Released: March 31, 2017. Directed by: Rupert Sanders. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano. Runtime: 1h 47 min.
In a futuristic world that’s trying to advance technology even further, Hanka Robotics takes a woman horribly injured in a car crash and puts her consciousness into a cyber-enhanced body and call her Major (Scarlett Johansson). She becomes a cyborg cop working in Section 9’s anti-terrorist bureau, fighting the world’s most dangerous criminals.
First, it feels necessary to talk about the whitewashing controversy – which has been dogging Ghost in the Shell’s production since Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Major Mira Killian. I haven’t seen the original film, but Johansson’s casting affects some believability. Even if you can get past the controversy, it’s still not that enjoyable.
It’s nice to have a female-led blockbuster but Johansson’s stiff, bland and robotic. I know she’s all robot except for her brain, but it would be nice if the brain would give her human emotion or personality. Her brain makes her an imperfect soldier because at one point she disobeys orders to try to save some lives. The character’s compassionate in the scene, but her face doesn’t get the memo and she doesn’t emote compassion or make me believe it. Major’s a hard character but it’s Johansson’s first performance I don’t like, mostly because she’s bland and there’s little depth.
The martial arts part of her character is cool – though an explanation for her powers of invisibility would be nice. The invisibility makes action scenes great when she’s fighting and flipping a guy in shallow water. The splashing and choreography makes great eye candy, and the visuals are the film’s strongest aspect. There are other fun action scenes, so it’s a shame so many other aspects are bad.
The world created is fascinating. The norm is for everyone who has enough money to have cyber-work done to enhance their bodies – one character gets a new liver so he can drink more booze – and it’s so normal that people ask you on the street if you want an enhancement instead of drugs. The skyline – full of Geisha and koi fish, indicating most likely they’re in Japan – is interesting but giant holograms in the background are so distracting that a man going for a casual jog becomes a scene-stealer.
The world is as creepy as it is cool. Being fully human is weird now, and there are creepy characters galore – especially ones with jagged teeth, and robotic Geishas are the source of nightmares when they open their faces. There’s other nightmarish imagery abound, and if the world feels creepy in live-action – I’m curious to watch the original to see how it’s portrayed in anime.
Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Major’s partner, has rather creepy eyes, but his character design is based on the source material. The supporting cast’s generally fine and Michael Pitt is strong as Kuze, though he sounds like Stephen Hawking’s computer voice malfunctioning. I like the supporting players more than Major and their personality make this more bearable.
Takeshi Kitano plays Daisuke Aramaki, the unit’s Chief, and it’s jarring that he’s the only one who speaks Japanese in the film. Everyone responds to him in English – but can apparently understand Japanese. Since everyone has robotic upgrades – you’d think a language component can be downloaded that let’s you speak Japanese. While it’s never crystal clear if this is set in Japan, but if it is, it’s especially strange that he’s the only person who speaks Japanese.
Some action scenes are memorable – notably the finale – but the only source of good entertainment is the film’s final 30 minutes when the story goes somewhere and we get answers for Major’s visions and glitches. It’s the only point where Major is almost interesting. I say almost because she’s just so dull that there’s an emotional wall that makes it difficult to become invested in her story.
The plot itself has some surprises but it rarely enthralls. The futuristic world’s interesting, but it’s even more fun to leave because it’s so bereft of passion.