By Thomas Simpson
The whitewashing controversy rages on in Hollywood with Paramount Pictures’ Ghost in the Shell.
Adapted from the manga of the same name, Ghost in the Shell had drew ire from critics over the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead, a character they feel should have been portrayed by a Japanese actress. Even with the support of Mamoru Oshii (director of the original anime films) the decision caused much debate and shrouded the film with unwanted attention.
Despite protestations from supporters including, though not surprisingly, the director Rupert Sanders and Johansson herself, the criticisms aren’t without merit. Unfortunately, this isn’t the film’s only issue. It’s easy to pin Ghost in the Shell’s box office failings on the social backlash it has received but change the casting of the lead character and it’s still a poor film.
Set in a not so distant future, cybernetic enhancements are popular with the majority of humans. As part of a secret project, Hanka Robotics develop an augmented soldier with a mechanical shell that can integrate with a human brain and consciousness. Their test subject is Mira Killian (Johansson) who over a year attains the rank of Major in the anti-terrorist bureau Section 9. A loyal soldier, she begins to cast doubt on her creators and existence when pursuing the terrorist Kuze (Michael Pitt).
Ghost in the Shell is stunning to look at. Sanders and cinematographer Jess Hall have captured the visual essence of the Cyberpunk genre and presented it in a gloriously industrial neon fashion. Comparisons with The Matrix are predictable but lazy as the Wachowski’s borrowed heavily from Ghost in the Shell’s source material but it still makes it difficult not to be reminded of the superior live action predecessor.
As attractive as it is on the eyes, the film suffers from poor pacing that finds the story dragging after an impressive opening. Nothing much really happens other than convoluted dialogue that serves as nothing more than tedious exposition. It isn’t intriguing or fascinating as the philosophy of the core material is glossed over and lost in the translation from page to screen.
The movie lacks any excitement or thrills although there are a few impressive action sequences including the introduction of the spider-tank for the climax. The performances by Johansson and Pilou Asbæk (as Batou) are noteworthy; even with the controversy, both portray the characters brilliantly and look like their anime counterparts. There is little depth to the writing however which leaves them feeling cold and more robotic than human. Even the legendary “Beat” Takeshi Kitano (as Chief Daisuke Aramaki) fails to pull the film up even if he is effortlessly cool in his limited screen time.
Ghost in the Shell is incredibly stylish but lacks any substance which would be excusable if was fun. Instead, the film is empty as this Ghost in the Shell lacks any soul.
Thomas is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.