What stories will this generation tell the ones to come? If the latest output from Hollywood is any indication, they will tell and re-tell the stories of previous generations with slight variations that aren’t adapted but simply repackaged. Hell, if Hollywood were a bookstore, then the used section would be the executives’ favorite. Especially anything dog-eared and underlined. Why bother doing the work when you can piggyback off of someone else?
That is the main knock against the live-action Americanization of Masamune Shirow’s seminal 1989 manga, Ghost in the Shell. Set in the Japanese city of New Port City in 2029, Ghost in the Shell follows the special team task force Section 9 as they track down a mysterious and dangerous hacker known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt channeling Max Headroom a bit too much).
While Section 9 consists mainly of humans with cyborg enhancements, their point woman, Major (Scarlett Johansson), is fully robotic with a human brain implanted. She is the best of both worlds, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) proclaims. Where a robot can only follow orders, a human mind can lead. Or so Dr. Ouelet hopes.
It doesn’t take long for Section 9 to realize the fix is in for them, and the shadowy world they must plunge into to find Kuze will lead to more questions than answers. But that won’t slow them in the slightest. Does it ever? Probably not. Worlds like these come prepackaged with a series of rules, and like it or not, this is how you play the game.
When Shirow released Ghost in the Shell in 1989, and when it was brought to the big screen in anime form in 1995, New Port City, cyborg enhancements, and an ever-growing communication network seemed like perfect science fiction. Nowadays, it looks like science inevitability. It doesn’t help that Ghost in the Shell was a major influence on sci-fi produced in the 1990s and 2000s, thus making a somewhat faithful 2017 adaptation of the manga feel more like a pastiche than anything base or original.
It also doesn’t help that director Rupert Sanders injects little to no energy into the material. Ghost in the Shell is populated with a plethora of pretty-looking things, painterly frames, and atmospheric touches with décor to match, but the camera does nothing to capture it with vim and vigor. This problem carries over to the editing, which lacks basic kinetics, giving the impression that the actors’ shoes are weighted. The result is a 107-minute movie that sluggishly reaches a familiar conclusion.
That’s not to say Ghost in the Shell isn’t without some merits: Takeshi Kitano’s performance as the Section 9 leader is easily the most pleasurable aspect of the movie. Not to mention that the movie’s subject matter, particularly an emphasis on consent, still rings true. Ghost just fails to do anything beyond what’s already on the page. It seems a waste to take something and ultimately do nothing.
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler
Based on the comic by Masamune Shirow
Produced by Ari Arad, Michael Costigan, Steven Paul
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Lasarus Ratuere
Paramount Pictures, Rated PG-13, Running time 107 minutes, Opens March 31, 2017