Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
When the theater darkened, and the film started playing, and I was greeted with a wall of text explaining the world I was about to witness, I wondered if I had made a mistake. The text explained that in the future human beings can choose to upgrade their bodies with cybernetic implants. The darkness then transitions to the creation of the main character, known as “Major” played by Scarlett Johansson, a fully mechanical body with a human brain. Everything that followed only told me I had not only made a mistake, I had made a huge mistake.
In the alternate future that the film depicts, it is normal for human beings to have upgraded parts of their bodies with technology. It is also normal for robots to work as servants for human beings, but Major would be the first fully mechanical body with a human brain. Like any good film about new technology, the government decides that Major should be used as a weapon, and therefore she is forced to join Section 9, a special military group that tackles unique situations. After discovering that someone is hacking into peoples minds through their implants, Major and her team get to work tracking down this hacker to put a stop to his evil plan. As the team gets closer to uncovering who the hacker is and what his plan is, Major starts to question her own reality and identity when her past bubbles up from her subconscious. What starts as a routine manhunt for a cyber-terrorist, uncovers a conspiracy thats goes further back than Major could imagine. Ghost in the Shell was a boring, meandering, mess of a film. Its a film that wanted to stay true to the original Japanese series it was based off of, while also appealing to a larger audience, having bigger and better action, and also be thought provoking. All of which it failed to do.
A majority of the first act of the film is spent trying to explain the implants that everyone has. The film assumes the audience won’t be able to figure out the implants from context of the story, and instead casts a safety net to explain anything that someone might find confusing. After the third or fourth explanation, you don’t care anymore. The biggest problem of Ghost in the Shell is its inability to show rather than tell. Instead of letting the audience figure out through visual clues what the implants do, or through less aggressive exposition, the film just explains things outright. The film also explains all of the emotions that characters are experiencing. There was not a single character in this film that is emotionally accessible. Everyone tells you exactly how they are feeling at any given time, instead of acting it out and allowing the audience to connect with the characters. We always know what Major is thinking, because she always says what she is thinking.
Ghost in the Shell tried very hard to ask (and answer?) the question of what it means to be human. There are a few times throughout the film where Major asks this question almost explicitly, and other characters try to answer it for her. After her partner is injured on the job and gets mechanical implants to replace his eyes, Major goes off to find a human (which in this world, seems to mean anyone who doesn’t have implants) and wonder what it means to be human with a human. Major’s entire identity from her creation was wrapped up in her being the first of her kind and the military telling her that she’s a weapon. When she starts to experience memories in the form of visual glitches, it only furthers her questions about humanity. Unfortunately, I may have made that sound deeper than it came across on film.
When Major comes face to face with the cyber-terrorist, Kuze (Michael Pitt), she discovers she was just one in a long line of experiments to implant a human brain in a mechanical body. All Kuze wants to do is upload his consciousness into the network that connects everything, so that he can be free from the bondage of a body. This opens some interesting questions about privacy and how exactly everything in this future world is connected, but the film chooses to ignore those questions to focus on Major’s identity crisis. Its at this point that the film shifts its focus from the terrorist manhunt when the company that created Major decides to decommission her, believing she has been corrupted by Kuze. This is when the films real villain is revealed (even though, what Kuze wanted to do was pretty questionable). I won’t spoil who it is, but it’s very clear from the beginning he has evil intentions. With the shift in story, and a shift in the films antagonist, the film starts to loosely question Government involvement with major corporations. The implication is that this is a bad thing, but the film doesn’t focus on it for too long.
The one redeeming part of this film is how visually unique it is. Similar to Doctor Strange, Ghost in the Shell creates a unique, visual world that is different from our own, which was more interesting to look at than the film was at many points. The action wasn’t at all fun to watch, imaginative, or any different from a typical blockbuster film, but the cityscapes and bright neons often contained nuggets of interesting advertisements that were humorous to look at. The rest of the film was a boring mess of exposition and reused story cliches that have been seen a hundred times before. I went into the film with low expectations, hoping that I would be surprised, but I left the theater frustrated that I had wasted money on that film and that T2: Trainspotting wasn’t playing anywhere near my backwoods, southern town.