Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017) – Cyber-enhanced after a near-fatal accident, Major devotes to being a perfect soldier but longs for answers to her past.
While highly enjoyable and slickly produced, this stylistic shell comes haunted by the absence of its ghost.
In the future, cybernetics have blurred the line between man and machine. More so for Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), whom Hanka Robotics has transplanted into a cyborg after a devastating accident leaves her human body irreparable. Now the Major of Section 9, she leads the task force in a kill-mission after an elusive terrorist, only to uncover her forgotten past and stolen identity.
A do-over of the 1995 classic sci-fi anime, Ghost in the Shell restages the cyborg’s existential dread in dazzling live-action visuals, polished to a fault. In his careful reconstruction of iconic imagery and high-octane set pieces, director Rupert Sanders demonstrates his flair for style, especially impressive in the slick mecha design.
While several elements are lifted from the source material, this is not a frame-by-frame adaptation. Sanders’ take is as much a remake as it is a respectful tribute to the franchise. Inspiration is drawn beyond the film, from the manga, series, and sequels. The amalgamation of influences births a familiar yet different antagonist in Kuze (Michael Pitt), whose mysterious past plays into his vengeance-driven ploy.
Aesthetics sadly far triumph over the derivative story. Kuze’s reductive evil corporation motives make a terse statement, as opposed to The Puppet Master’s complex drive towards transcendence. Contemplative themes behind artificial intelligence are presented superficially, leaving less impact than the seminal film that had inspired the Matrix trilogy.
This is largely due to a weak script. The writing team sidesteps the big questions on identity, while doing little to improve on the exposition-heavy original. Lacking subtlety, characterisation comes across scant and soulless. This is especially the case for Mira, who engages her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) in deadpan, hollow conversations, where emotional resonance and insights are regrettably absent.
More missed opportunities lie in dismissive throwaway lines, be it in Togusa (Chin Han)’s aversion of automation, or Hanka Robotics’ one-track corporate gains. Save for scene-stealer Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), most of the Section 9 officers are to make do with bit parts – as empty shells sans personalities.
The action-driven narrative instead takes the tried-and-tested route of heroic resistance, where Scarlett Johansson seems to go through the motions with disinterest. Still, it is difficult to dismiss the production and entertainment value of Sanders’ glossy vision.
There is no better musical companion to this, than Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell’s pulsing electronic score. Running on a straightforward trajectory, Ghost in the Shell is at least enjoyable as a standalone, which emerges a cut above its genre peers in style, if not substance.