Ghost in the Shell Review: A Lifeless, Robotic, Disrespectful Take On a Classic

Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell might just be one of the most thoughtless remakes of all time. Between blatant whitewashing, an empty script, and lackluster action, this film doesn’t deserve any of the revenue a property like this guarantees to bring in. But hey, it’s a live-action remake of a beloved classic in Japanese animation. People are going to go.

But good lord they really shouldn’t. Ghost in the Shell isn’t even the kind of bad flick that gets a sophomoric rise merely out of being so terrible. It’s dry, boring, and, at just over 100 minutes, somehow entirely too long.

The material has been altered a bit, but the basic skeleton of the story should be familiar to fans of the original. Major (Scarlett Johansson, nearly bored to tears) is the first success in transplanting a human brain into a synthetic body. Naturally, the government turned her into a killing machine. But as Major starts to question her past, with flickering visions that she shares with fellow government reject Kuze (Michael Pitt), she’s taken on a journey of self discovery that she really doesn’t seem interested in going on.

I suppose the chief problem with the film is how seriously it takes itself. The Wachowskis have gone on the record to say that the original was a huge influence on The Matrix. It shows. They share two distinct qualities. First, they both know exactly how cool they are and joyously milk it almost to the point of self parody. Second, they also both pause everything going on for extended philosophical deliberations that become essential to their respective tones. Sanders’ take does just the opposite. Gone is the philosophy, replaced with nods to Blade Runner in an effort to sell American audiences on the film. But this Ghost in the Shell has no vibe to build off of. It’s empty both whimsically and emotionally, leaving the audience as cold as Johansson’s performance.

The Blade Runner nods end up being the only life the film really has. The production design is familiar but moody, while Clint Mansell’s score of deep thumping synths is probably the film’s best feature (has Blade Runner 2049 been scored yet? Hire Mansell, he gets it).

But in the end, these few redeeming qualities don’t even come close to making up for the long slog of weightless plot developments. Throw in some questionable casting and how ignorant the film is to the hard truth about Asians in Hollywood, and Ghost in the Shell begins to feel less harmlessly bad. What we get here can simply be qualified as a money grabbing disaster with not a second of thought put into what the original was trying to do. But that’s the bright side about bad remakes, a lot of the opportunities missed were taken and likely paid off in the original, a film audiences can revisit time and time again without giving this “attempt” a second thought. Grade: D

By Matt Dougherty

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