“Ghost in the Shell” and its lead character are certainly one and the same: Both are beautiful but lacking in any real soul.
In near-future Japan, Scarlett Johansson plays Major Mira Killian, a robotic soldier with a human brain, created by a similarly discordant pairing of business and government.
Disconnected from her past, she fights terrorism in a neon- and hologram-laden world where everyone is connected through their own cybernetic enhancements. And much like today, such linkage is used to share – and steal – information.
After a group of mysterious assailants murderously hacks her corporate creator, Hanka Robotics, Major sets out to discover why their leader, Kuze (Michael Pitt), is hunting Hanka’s leaders. Along the way, she unexpectedly learns more about her own cache, which someone has been trying to clear.
With her Section 9 partner, Batou (Pilou Asbæk), the counterterrorist Major turns detective, tapping in to Kuze’s network that spans the physical and digital underbellies of Japan. And, in doing so, her own biomechanical gut tells her there’s more to both Kuze and Hanka than what is seen on their surface.
It’s “Minority Report” mystery meets “Matrix” mechanics in a world of “Blade Runner” beauty. However, “Ghost in the Shell’s” story is far more shallow than each – unfortunate given the richness of its Japanese comic source material and the film’s own attempts to submerge audiences in Major’s seemingly deep and murky past.
In that sense, “Ghost in the Shell” is much like director Rupert Sanders last film, “Snow White and the Huntsman”: visually impressive but unable to apply that same sense of awe to its characters. And such efforts were particularly needed for this movie, in that one could call it “Ghost in the White Shell,” given its headline-making casting controversies.
When the Caucasian Johansson was cast in the lead the role, Asian-American advocacy groups, and even actress and comedian Margaret Cho, condemned the move as “whitewashing” Asian characters. Casting motives aside, Rupert and Johansson had even more incentive to make their Major’s memorability anything but minor.
Johansson does a fine job, but in no way will audiences be longing for another Major outing, like they wanted and got with Keanu Reeves’ Neo and will with Harrison Ford’s Deckard. The film’s villain is also forgettable. More appealing was Asbæk’s Batou and his and Major’s boss, Aramaki, played by popular Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano.
With its striking sights and sounds, if only “Ghost in the Shell” could’ve had the sentiment and story to match. Ironically, it should’ve avoided the Depeche Mode lyrics in its far-more-engaging trailer: “Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm.”
Not in the case of “Ghost in the Shell.”
2.5 out of 5