Action Adaptation

'Ghost in the Shell' Film Review: 'Blade Runner' meets 'The Matrix', in the live-action version of the anime cult classic

March 31, 2017Ben MK

Philosophy and science fiction go hand in hand. Case in point: the Wachowskis, Philip K. Dick, Stanley Kubrick or any one of the myriad other directors, authors and artists who have used the genre as a springboard for tackling such heady topics as existentialism, free will and the very nature of reality itself.

It's anime filmmakers, however, who have arguably shown the greatest proclivity towards trying to probe some of philosophy's deepest questions with their work. From movies like Akira to television shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, the landscape of Japanese animation is dotted with sci-fi tales anchored by philosophical underpinnings worthy of a post-graduate thesis. Of course, one of the best-known examples has got to be Mamoru Oshii's 1995 cult classic, Ghost in the Shell, from which director Rupert Sanders' new, live-action version draws inspiration.

Also influenced by Masamune Shirow's like-titled manga, this 2017 iteration of Ghost in the Shell follows the cyborg heroine known as Major (Scarlett Johansson), leader of elite cybercrime-fighting unit Section 9, whose flawless, synthetic exterior is but a vessel for the damaged human soul within. Gifted with a second chance at life and tasked with doling out justice in a futuristic metropolis, the Major finds herself grappling with an identity crisis when she goes up against Kuze (Michael Pitt), an elusive terrorist whose violent actions dredge up her tragic past.

What follows effortlessly calls to mind such sci-fi masterworks as Blade Runner and The Matrix, skillfully marrying the gritty, neo-noir cityscape of the former with the balletic, slick action sequences of the latter, and infusing the result with the bright, neon signage of Tokyo's Akihabara district for good measure. Suffice to say, the visual spectacle that ensues is worth the price of admission alone. It's when Ghost in the Shell attempts to dive even deeper down the rabbit hole of this hybridization, though, that the film sacrifices some of its sure-footing.

From the true essence of human consciousness to the ability for technology to enrich our day-to-day lives while simultaneously destroying our humanity, the script by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler raises many interesting questions and introduces several thought-provoking concepts into the narrative; yet, it neglects to explore any of them to their full potential. Instead, what Ghost in the Shell musters is a largely cursory treatment of its underlying subject matter, albeit in favor of delivering substantially more bang for moviegoers' entertainment buck.

That said, there's nonetheless plenty to like about this latest incarnation of Ghost in the Shell, not the least of which is its outstanding international cast, which also includes 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche and Pilou Asbæk as the Major's superior, Aramaki, her creator, Dr. Ouélet, and her loyal partner in anti-crime, Batou, respectively. As for the blowback surrounding Johansson's casting, the explanation for it within the context of the film is actually more sound than you might think. However, it's unlikely that this controversy will give up the ghost any time soon.

Ghost in the Shell releases March 31st, 2017 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 46 Mins.

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