Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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.

Verdict

While highly enjoyable and slickly produced, this stylistic shell comes haunted by the absence of its ghost.

3/5

Review

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.

Ghost in the Shell
Mason Verger gets an upgrade.

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.

Ghost in the Shell
“Notice me.” – Batou

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.

Ghost in the Shell
Precogs are in abundance these days.

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.

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21 thoughts on “Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

  1. Great review: loved the word play in the opening of your post: very clever 😊 I highly enjoyed the movie, and don’t think it is entirely fair that this movie is being trashed by so many people. As you say the script was lacking, and there were enough elements that could have been handled better. But I still think that it was a pretty decent and respectful tribute to the original movie classic. I am glad you enjoyed the film as well! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Michel! 😊 I completely agree with you, and felt that the bashing was a bit excessive. Ghost in the Shell is far from a bad remake, just one that didn’t live up to its potential.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I’m still debating whether I should watch this movie or not. I’m not the biggest fan of Scarlett Johansson and might skip it due to that but I’m not sure… Would you say it’s worth watching? Brilliant review Jade, as always!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you like fun sci-fi action, for sure. It’s a real visual treat! If you are looking for something more thoughtful (and sans ScarJo, haha!), perhaps the original 1995 film will interest you more?

      And thanks so much Renate! Looking forward to more of your reviews, as always. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you’ll like it! The remake is definitely enjoyable as a straight-up action flick. 😎 Plus, it does reiterate some of the anime’s themes, even if the mention is superficial.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Same here, very good visuals and the soundtrack which was for me easily the best part but they really could have explored those ideas better. You cannot build a good sci-fi movie on ambitious script, story-wise, that is not exploring anything properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right on! I was disappointed that the ideas fizzled out before they were fully formed. And that score is genuinely perfect, isn’t it! Clint Mansell is one of my favourite composers, and he continues to astound me with his works. Thank you for leaving your thoughts, Sati! 🙂

      Like

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