James Cole Clay // Film Critic
Director of GHOST OF THE SHELL, Rupert Sanders (SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN), earned the gig when Steven Spielberg saw a HALO commercial that he directed on television. While the commercial uses a visual style that undoubtedly works in short form, and on the visual side, Sanders has struggled to assemble an engrossing film filled with character arcs and relevant thought-provoking themes — which great sci-fi films hinge themselves upon.
Based on the manga series GHOST IN THE SHELL, the film of the same name had an anime film rote of beauty that painted a futuristic city-scape that brought the world to life. And while personally I’m not a fan of the source material, the big Hollywood version perked my ears quite a bit. With Scarlett Johansson in the lead role as an android with peak physical abilities and a human brain, this story had the upmost potential to wow with its beauty and action choreography.
Before we get any further down this rabbit-hole, the premise of GHOST IN THE SHELL is pretty remarkable. In the near future, humans are saved from their own mortality and are given cyber-enhanced upgrades so their bodies can last longer, maybe forever. Major (Johansson) is the perfect embodiment as she is the first example of an android with a fully-operational human brain. Adeptly, the script by Jamie Moss (STREET KINGS) and William Wheeler (QUEEN OF KATWE) tackles issues of spiritualism and the consent of women. However, this story requires a ton of exposition and its streamlined for the sake of Hollywood — the weight of these themes were too heavy for this film to take on and it all feels like a waste, especially in 2017 when having an open discourse about consent is so incredibly important.
While there could, and should have been, more to this rendition to chew on cerebrally, visually it’s stunning, and you have to give that up to Sanders. Even in the day time, the cityscape is painted in bright neon lights that eat up the agriculture, from the obnoxious billboards to the constant dampness of water flooding the streets. Unfortunately, in today’s world of tent pole films beautiful CGI work is a dime a dozen, even if the budget is $130 million.
If GHOST IN THE SHELL succeeds financially, it will be solely due to the work of Johansson, who has shown time and time again why she can carry a multitude of films. Her character of Major doesn’t really emote on the surface, but she practices restraint and keeps a perplexed look on her face, which brings a mansion of mystery to her performance. She conceals her feelings as she receives flashes of past memories and routine maintenance from her physician Dr. Ouelet (Juliet Binoche). And not to mention she wields formidable 9mm pistols in gunfights. Oddly, her best scene is when she has a standoff with an obsolete model of her same making, Kuze (Michael Pitt, who gives the best performance in the film) a beat up android who talks in the creepiest AOL/“You’ve Got Mail” voice one could possibly imagine.
GHOST IN THE SHELL isn’t the disaster that the film community could have imagined. While it’s visually sumptuous, the films lacks a narrative husk. Really this comes down to the direction, which is the equivalent of the candy aisle without any vegetables in sight.
GHOST IN THE SHELL opens nationwide on Friday, March 31.