Movie Review: “Ghost in the Shell”
Ghost in the Shell
In a world of cyber and robotic human enhancements, Major (Scarlet Johansson) is the first of her kind. After her human body suffered a terrible accident, her brain (still intact) was transplanted into an incredibly advanced, robotic body (or shell). While her brain and spirit is still in there, Major has no recollection of her past before her brain was transplanted into the robotic shell. In that sense, she is a ghost of sorts.
She does not remember the terrible accident that nearly ended her life, so she must take everyone else's word for what happened to her. Fortunately, technology has advanced that allows humans to enhance their own bodies. Major, however, got a shell made up of the latest and greatest in enhanced technologies, making her one of a kind. With her new enhanced body, Major is placed in a special unit of operatives that consists of a friend named Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and led by Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). This unit consists of other (albeit less advanced) enhanced operatives, with Major as their prized asset. Their purpose is to hunt enhanced criminals, and they are an effective team, but a new threat has surfaced named Kuze (Michael Pitt). Kuze is a formidable adversary for the unit, but he also challenges everything that Major has been told about her and her past.
The Pros & Cons
Villain's Motivations (-4pts)
Batou & Aramaki (+3pts)
Scarlet Johansson (-2pts)
Pro: Action (+10pts)
The action in this movie was a lot of fun. It looked great visually and I thought the filmmakers used the enhanced bodies effectively and creatively. There were some shots and action sequences that I have not seen anything like them before, simply because the enhanced bodies made unique things possible. There were some great gun fights (though a lot of villains had storm trooper syndrome when it came to hitting their targets).
This movie certainly had its weaknesses, but the action was not one of them. It was well choreographed and used the enhancements effectively, in a way that made for some really awesome and unique action sequences. I also thought the filmmakers had the perfect amount of action in here. There was enough that it was always exciting, but it was spread out enough (and each sequence was unique enough) that the action never felt stale. There was plenty of action in Ghost in the Shell and it did not disappoint.
Con: Major (-5pts)
Unfortunately the main character was one of this movie's biggest weaknesses. Do not get me wrong, she was cool and she was fun to watch in action heavy situations. That being said, when the filmmakers tried to focus and rely on her story, the movie became somewhat boring, because the audience was not properly invested. The problem here was that her body (including her face) was robotic, so she was not supposed to convey much emotion. Scarlett Johannson did a decent job of bringing some emotion to the character subtly, but it was not enough to get me invested in what she was feeling.
Major also had no memory of anything that happened before her transplant, and as a result, she did not seem that invested in her own past. She was trying to get answers regarding her past due to curiosity, but she was not herself invested in those answers. I think having the movie start with a few scenes from her life before the transplant would have gone a long way in making the audience care about this character's fate. Would this have ruined the plot twist? Sure, but it was a twist that was so obvious that I saw it coming before seeing the movie (having also never seen the anime), so it was not an effective plot twist anyway.
Pro: Technology (+6pts)
I really liked the use of the futuristic technology in Ghost in the Shell. I thought the movie presented a compelling version of what the world could be like in the future, while also making a statement on how much we currently rely on technology. While the movie showed plenty of examples of the benefits that come with human-robotic integration (strength, vision, communication, etc.) the filmmakers also presented a fascinating example of one of the bad things that could come from this technology. With technology that can access the internet, the door is open for hackers. In a world like the one presented in this movie, humanity's dependence on technology allows hacking to evolve to the point where people can be hacked. Your thoughts and memories are vulnerable to those who capability and the desire to access it. This is a fascinating concept, but I wish that the filmmakers explored this idea further.
Con: Villain's Motivations (-4pts)
The villain of this movie was pretty underdeveloped. Now I do not need to know everything about a villain's backstory (from their childhood up to the events of the movie), but I think it is important to give a villain proper development, otherwise you end up with a bland, one-dimensional antagonist. This is especially true when your protagonist is an emotionless cyborg. There seemed to be no justifiable reason for why the antagonist did some of the things that he did. Particularly how people were "selected" to be part of the program. This program would have no shortage of volunteers so the method of selection that the villain used seemed pointless, other than to force drama into the story. This made the villain come across as foolish in addition to being uninteresting.
Pro: Batou and Aramaki (+3pts)
This was an unexpected surprise for me, but I really enjoyed the dynamic that Major, Batou, and Aramaki had with each other. These characters formed the special unit that Major worked for, and while there were more characters in the unit, these were the only notable ones. This trio had a family dynamic that was entertaining to watch. I totally got that any of them would die trying to save the others, as they were a family of misfits, and they all felt that. This element of the story worked very well, and I would have liked to have seen it get more focus.
Con: Scarlet Johansson (-2pts)
After seeing the movie, I can safely say that Scarlet Johansson should not have been cast in this role. I get the premise, Scarlet Johansson's body was a robot so she did not have to look like the people from that geographical location. I also get that this movie took place in the distant future where a global racial mix was implied. Both of these are valid points, but I did not think that Scarlet Johansson brought anything special to the role. Was that her fault? No, the character did not give much room for creativity or expression, but that is my point. This character was relatively emotionless, and could have been played by literally anyone.
The character allowed for any ethnicity in the actress portraying Major which meant that this movie presented a perfect opportunity for an up and coming, non-white actress for a movie that was based on a story from non-white culture. Instead, the studio chose to go with a big name to hopefully draw more people into seeing this movie. I think this decision had the opposite effect because I think a lot of people were turned off by this casting, and let us be honest, an up-and-coming actress would have been a lot cheaper than Scarlet Johansson. It did not have a huge impact on my enjoyement of the movie, but the realization that this character could have been played by anyone and the missed opportunity, was a thought that kept plaguing me throughout this movie.
Grade: B- (83pts)
I thought Ghost in the Shell was a decent movie, but it could have been a lot better. The action was great, the visuals were great, and the character dynamic between the unit was fun to watch. Unfortunately, this movie fell apart with its protagonist and antagonist. I do not think either character got the development that they needed, which resulted in me not being very invested in their fates. I also thought that Scarlet Johansson, through no fault of her own, was a poor casting choice for Major. I think my favorite part of this movie would have to be its interpretation on humanity and our dependence on new technology, as well as presenting a compelling and dangerous possible future for such a dependence. However, the filmmakers did not focus on this story's more compelling ideas, and while I thought the movie was decent, I also thought it was a missed opportunity.