Ghost in the Shell is a weird one… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
After all, its lofty ideas about technology’s impact on the human condition are becoming more and more relevant. Cybernetic enhancement, cyborg bodies and the very nature of the human soul are all up for discussion. There’s certainly a lot of heady concepts in Ghost in the Shell that are going to keep us talking for some time.
But does it really push the conversation forward?
Based on the 1995 anime classic, Ghost in the Shell gives us a stark, and uninviting look at a bleak future that could be just around the corner. Blurring the lines between human and robot, technology has advanced to the point where human augmentation isn’t just possible, it’s more widespread than you could possibly imagine.
Admin assistants have augmented hands that allow them to multitask more efficiently.
Even truck drivers have neural implants.
But even so, the Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a technological breakthrough. The sole survivor of a terrorist cyberattack, her body was apparently destroyed beyond repair… and so she finds herself subject to an experimental procedure – her brain transplanted into a fully-cyborg body. She’s the first of her kind – a medical and technological marvel.
But she’s also been stripped of her identity.
Essentially, she is the Ghost in the Shell – a human soul inside the mechanical shell… and that seems to be the only thing she clings onto. At least, at first. But one year later, you can see the effect it’s having on her. Transformed into a cold, calculating killing machine, she executes her assignments for anti-terrorist bureau Section 9 with ruthless efficiency.
It’s as if she’s forgotten how to feel.
It’s an almost interesting premise that sees the Major struggling with her own identity. Glitches appear in her sight and hearing which seem to be causing digital hallucinations… but she’s not entirely sure if they’re a side-effect of her procedure or if they’re actually repressed memories. But for the most part, the Major remains cold and emotionless.
There are some interesting interactions with her partner, Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and her ‘creator’, Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) but it always seems to stop short of anything remotely meaningful.
And I think that sums up the film rather well.
There are plenty of great concepts to sink your teeth into, and it’s not too much, either – the fantastic action sequences punctuating the plot in all the right places. But I felt that Ghost in the Shell, while it’s a good film (maybe even bordering on great) could have been better.
The biggest problem?
Ghost in the Shell doesn’t really go anywhere.
Sure, it introduces some interesting concepts, but it doesn’t really do anything with them. We’ve seen it all before in the likes of The Matrix and even Blade Runner. But where those films pushed the conversation forward, Ghost in the Shell is happy to lay out the groundwork before wandering off into the distance.
The plot feels very standard. Despite all these high-brow concepts, there’s just not an awful lot of substance to the Major’s story. Sure, she has a crisis of consciousness, and it turns out she’s at the very centre of a grand conspiracy. But we know so little about her, I didn’t really care. Not that I wanted her to come to harm by the end of the movie, but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to happen to her.
Should she get a happily ever after? Should she stick around with the rest of the ass-kicking Section 9? I really wasn’t bothered.
But there’s still plenty to love about Ghost in the Shell.
It’s visually stunning – some of the most impressive neo-noir scenes I’ve seen since the original Blade Runner. The action sequences are top-notch, too with Scarlett Johansson solidly kicking ass throughout the movie, accompanied by the gun-toting Batou who holds his own without distracting too much from The Major’s female empowerment vibe.
Then there’s the production design…
Everything in Ghost in the Shell is meticulously crafted and absolutely stunning. The common workplace is transformed into a technophobe’s nightmare, with screens and cables and cybernetic connections everywhere. My personal favourite? The robotic geisha we encounter early in the movie is just amazing from the outset… but peeking beneath its clean, robotic panels reveals a meticulously designed robotic interior that’s a cyberpunk’s dream.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is stylish, it’s slick, but it lacks the substance that could have elevated the movie to ground-breaking levels. It’s a real shame – the potential was definitely there. But while it’s a good, solid action flick, it really could have been something special.
Ghost in the Shell is in cinemas now.
Have you seen Ghost in the Shell yet? Do you think it stacks up against the original anime? Let us know what you think in the comments below…