Ghost in the Shell Review (2017)

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Rated PG-13 (sci-fi violence, suggestive content and disturbing images).

Set in the near future where nearly everyone has some level of cybernetic enhancements, Ghost in the Shell’ is centred on a young woman called Major (Scarlett Johansson), a survivor of a terrorist attack whose body is irrevocably damaged. After undergoing the first successful brain transplant into a fully cybernetic body (the Shell of the film title), Major is unable to recollect much of her former life. She is taken under the wing of a counter-terrorism group called Section 9, and quickly finds herself embroiled in a escalating series of cyber-attacks targeting Hanka Robotics, the very corporation that gave her new life. As Major dives deeper into her investigation she slowly uncovers shady dealings and questions about her own past.

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Based on the popular manga series of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is a cornucopia of incredible visual imagery. The city itself, where all of the movie takes place, is one big set piece. Bright, glaring, garish and surrounded by towering holographic projections assaulting the eyes of the inhabitants, vying for their attention. The style is very influenced by Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner, but amped up. It can be a little overwhelming at first, taking a while to get used to, and sometimes even being a distraction from the story.

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But this film might be a case of more style over substance. While, much like its source material, the overarching story is intriguing, the film tackles the issues in a very surface level sort of way. The themes of what makes us human has been already dealt with the afore-mentioned Blade Runner and in later films like A.I and Robocop, so much of the story feels like a bit of a re-tread. Ironic, considering that the original manga series was one of the bigger influences of those dystopian sci-fi flicks.

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The same can be said about another series that Ghost in the Shell was a strong influence of. The Matrix films. The Wachowski siblings readily admit that they borrowed ideas from Ghost in the Shell but unfortunately with the live-action version being made in a post-Matrix world, one can’t help feeling that all the action sequences are just a copy of the Wachowskis seminal franchise rather than being an inspiration to it. It’s a shame really, because while the action sequences are quite spectacular, they end up feeling like the Matrix 2.0. Which is not a bad thing I guess.

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On the acting side of things, Johansson is, as you would expect, quite good in the role of a sexy, robotic assassin. Her cold, emotionless demeanour perfectly captures the stark emptiness Major feels as the only one of her kind, unable to physically feel and constantly questioning her purpose. This is also manifested in the way that Johansson physically portrayed Major, hunched and awkward, only really at ease when performing acts of violence. And though much was made about the “white-washing” of her character, I don’t think it really was that big of a deal in the film. There’s even an in-movie explanation for it, for what that’s worth.

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Now in spite of having a talented ensemble cast, nothing is really done with them. The supporting characters are precisely that, a sounding board that serve as exposition for what Major is going through. It would have been great if the team dynamic could have been explored a bit more, rather than leaving them as a little more than ciphers themselves, as there is a good foundation for the characters. As it is, you get the feeling that a lot of their development may have been left on the cutting room floor.

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All in all, Ghost in the Shell is rather pretty to look at with action beats that vary in quality. It’s something that’s worth watching in 3D just to take in the special effects, but if you rather just watch it at home, that will work too.  Despite being a pioneer in the world of Cyberpunk, the late arrival of this film makes it seem more derivative that it is.

I give Ghost in the Shell a 6.5 out of 10, and no, there is no end credit scene.

6.5 - Neutral

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