Johansson battles criminals in futuristic ‘Ghost in the Shell’
Screened in IMAX 3-D for the press, Rupert Sanders' “Ghost in the Shell” is not so much a pale (although it is in so many ways) imitation of the landmark 1995 Japanese manga (and media franchise) of the same name and plot directed by Mamoru Oshii. This new film is a decidedly dark and murky imitation with annoyingly cheap 3-D and its protagonist transformed from an animated, Japanese, female cyborg-assassin to ravenhaired Scarlett Johansson in a digitized, flesh-colored body suit.
Johansson lost an impressive amount of weight for the role, not to mention an impressive amount of credibility for pretending no one would be upset by the cultural and racial appropriation of the character at this sensitive time.
Sanders' film begins with the “birth” of Major Mira Killian (that's what I heard anyway; it's not in the credits) in a bath of synthetic flesh (or something). The Major's surrogate mother, cybernetics expert Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), creates her in the lab. She explains to the Major that while her cyborg body is robotic, her “ghost” (i.e. her soul) still resides inside.
The obviously nefarious Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), the CEO of the evil corporation empire Hanka Robotics, tells Ouelet that the Major is “a weapon,” and she is assigned to work with a law enforcement team headed by venerable officer Aramaki (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano). The Major and her big, burly, wise-cracking partner Batou (Danish actor Pilou Asbaek) find themselves facing a ghostly masked terrorist calling himself Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt, “Boardwalk Empire”), who is bent upon destroying anyone and anything in league with Hanka.
One of the first things I noticed in this new, knockoff “Ghost in the Shell” was that Sanders revisits an important image from his “Snow White and the Huntsman,” during the shooting of which he had a front-page dalliance with his star Kristen Stewart. The image is a nude female form emerging from a bath of viscous white liquid, and I thought, “Is that all you've got, Rupert?”
Screenwriters Jamie Moss and William Wheeler (“Ray Donovan”) don't bring much either, although there is one nice sequence in which a robotic geisha turns all spidery.
The setting appears to be another neo-Tokyo, recalling that other anime classic “Akira” (1988), with almost everything about the visuals lifted from Ridley Scott's 1982 landmark “Blade Runner,” including giant animated advertisements on the sides of high-rises. Notably, the 35-yearold “Blade Runner” looks vastly better than this latest Hollywood cheese product. Progress?
The most outrageous thing about this new “Ghost in the Shell” is not when Johansson whips off her raincoat and dives almost nude from the top of a building for the second or third time. It is that according to this film's lame and derivative plot, the film's villains are the ones responsible for the “whitewashing.” That is cheekier than anything else you see in the film by far.
(“Ghost in the Shell” contains violence, disturbing images and scenes featuring near nudity.)