Ghost in the Shell – Unique human-cyborg hybrid, Major, leads an elite task force which works to stop dangerous criminals. When they come across a mysterious terrorist who can hack into the minds of their victims and control their thoughts and memories, their pursuit leads Major to discover difficult truths of her origins.
Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Director: Rupert Sanders
Running Length: 107 mins
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
‘GHOST IN THE SHELL’ REVIEW
Over 20 years since the seminal Japanese anime ‘Ghost In The Shell’ was released to critical acclaim, a long-awaited live-action release is finally upon us. The original explored weighty themes such as the nature of self, artificial intelligence, the impact on humanity when reproduction is removed and the psychological impact of electronic body augmentation – not themes that major movie studios are known to favour over action. Notwithstanding the prominent ‘whitewashing’ controversy (although it must be remembered that Scarlett Johansson is the only action leading lady in Hollywood right now and without her signing on this film would probably not have gotten made), there has been a lot riding on ‘Ghost In The Shell’. In truth, ‘Ghost In The Shell’ is exactly what you would assume a major live action remake of a dialogue and philosophy heavy Japanese intellectual property to be. It scales down the long conversations, ramps up the action, and mesmerises with a gorgeously glossy visual assault.
Major (Johansson) is a human brain and consciousness (or ‘Ghost’) in an entirely cybernetic body (or ‘Shell’) working for Section 9, an anti-terrorist government arm. Tasked with hunting down the terrorist known as Kuze – who can hack into people’s augmented brains and corrupt their minds – she seeks both justice and revenge. Somewhat predictably, considering her memories are digitised and can be downloaded and wiped by her shady overseers, all is not as it appears and she begins to question her own mind. Unfortunately, neither Johansson’s neutral expressions or the script’s glossed over conversations ever really get into a meaningful examination of what it means to not be able to trust your own memories.
Similarly, Major herself seems to inspire complete devotion in her bit-part team….just because. Beyond her friendship with the gruff Batou (who is played with satisfying oomph by Asbaek) and her tense relationship with the motherly Dr. Ouelet (Juliet Binoche proving some rare heart for the movie) there is little in the way of human connections. That may be the point, but you can’t espouse the emptiness of the human condition removed from the human body without some contrast. Ghost In The Shell never provides the other side of the coin, eschewing depth for Blade Runner-esque holo-billboards and invisibility fights (Blade Runner being a better example of how to give all bases enough weight).
Ghost In The Shell is undoubtedly an engaging action movie. The visuals are rich and detailed, the fight scenes full of energy, and the augmented human future frightening in its near-future possibility. Iconic scenes from the original are lovingly (perhaps too much so) recreated and, despite the Blade Runner comparison above, there aren’t many films that at least try to go blockbuster and also cover some existential philosophy, for which ‘Ghost In The Shell’ should be praised. But what depth the script tries to cover is more often than not clichéd and artificial, meaning the end result is a beautiful – but ultimately hollow – experience.
IS ‘GHOST IN THE SHELL’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
There are many elements that make Ghost In The Shell potentially too violent for kids.
The opening montage shows a robot body floating through various machines. As it goes through each one, it adds another layer of materials which makes it look more and more human. A flesh layer is added and the female body rises, ‘naked’. This is seen in side profile and also frontal with bare ‘breasts’ shown. However, there are no nipples and this is not sexualised in any way. There is also around 5 seconds of strobe lighting in this scene.
There are several serving women dressed as stylised geisha’s that are robotic in their movements. One contorts and shoots wires out from ‘her’ mouth into the back of a man’s head. Arms and legs also extent and she unnaturally scales a wall backwards, whilst holding the man hostage. When Major arrives to save the man, the geisha robot says, ‘Help me, please. Don’t let me die’. Major crashes into an office where an attack is happening. She shoots several attackers and they drop to the floor.
Major’s arrival into the attack is achieved by her invisibility camouflage suit. This is flesh coloured and skin-tight, making her appear naked. Major removes all her outer clothes in order for it to work. At first glance it looks like she is naked, although the collar of the suit can be seen on closer inspection. Again, this ‘nudity’ is not sexualised in any way nor is it commented upon by other characters. She uses this suit several times in the movie.
When Major shoots some attackers there is no blood. Similar shoot outs happen throughout the movie, again with no blood beyond some mild clothes staining in some instances.
Major receives an ‘injury’ to her wrist. She gets this fixed in a lab. Her wrist skin is shown to be burned away and motorised tendons are moving in shot. There is no blood in this scene and it is treated just like fixing a car.
In order to explore what happened to the geisha robot Major performs a ‘deep dive’ where she is connected mentally to the robot and explores its memory. During this scene the are crumbling figures made out of data and muffled noises of female screams. Major approaches a hooded figure who lunges at her in a jump scare, cables shooting from his face. A mob of faceless people then swamp Major and cover her so she ‘drowns’ in them. During this scene Major is scared and the scene is quite intense. It is over after about a minute.
Major and Batou follow a lead to a Yakuza owned bar. Batou needs to distract staff and tells them that he is ‘just here for the girls’. The bar has a generally sleazy feel and many patrons are watching holographic girls dance, Major is ‘captured’ by a very sleazy looking man and she is repeatedly zapped with cattle prods – yelping in ‘pain.
A bomb goes off, seriously injuring some characters. When healing is taking place we see most of the front flesh removed with red organs underneath. New flesh is slowly layered on by robotic arms. We also see this in side profile where the breast is mostly red muscle. Although this is not graphic injury detail and Major feels no pain, the scene does last around 5 minutes. Another character receives an eye injury during the explosion (which we do not see) and this results in them being given augmented eyes that look like short tubes protruding from eye sockets.
Major seems to visit a female prostitute in an effort to feel a human connection. She asks the woman to remove her tech enhancements which are a mouth covering and eyelid covering. She then runs her fingers along the woman’s mouth. The other woman is unsure of what to do. The scene ends with nothing happening between them.
Kuze attacks an established female lab technician. Her eyes have previously been shown to be removable as part of her augmentation but Kuze violently yanks these off. She is later found with her eye sockets missing. What is shown is a ‘bracket’ rather than injury detail.
When tackling Kuze, Major enters a building with lots of men all plugged in by cables. Mumbled female sex noises can be heard so presumably they are ‘experiencing’ some kind of pornography. This is not commented upon or lingered upon. As Major moves through the building we see first in the background and later in close up that there are several bodies inside large plastic bags suspended from hooks. The scene shortly developed into some protracted strobe lighting which lasts a few minutes.
Kuze casually detaches half of the top layer of Major’s face. She doesn’t react to this and he later puts it back, but robotic skeletal casing with a ‘human’ eye is shown.
After Major has been swimming underwater she gets on a boat piloted by Batou. She goes into the cabin and unzips her wetsuit from behind. She is shown ‘properly’ topless from behind with a small amount of her breast visible from the side. This is quick and not sexualised by either character, although Batou does look away.
A character is ambushed and shot at. One fallen character is executed at close range by being shot in the head but a car door blocks the camera’s view and there is no blood.
Major uses all her cyborg strength to try to pull a hatch off a large machine. Her arms bulge and tear at the effort, her back muscles split through her skin and the same happens to her thighs. Ultimately one arm is torn off. The tearing and snapping of the tendons is shown in close up and in detail.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
VERDICT – IS ‘GHOST IN THE SHELL’ FOR KIDS?
‘Ghost In The Shell’ is a movie in a similar vein to Blade Runner, Total Recall, and the Matrix (which was heavily inspired by the original anime movie). Whilst this version of the story is more action packed than previous iterations it is still an adult story with adult themes, philosophical undertones, and violence throughout. We would therefore recommend that ‘Ghost In The Shell’ is unsuitable for children aged under 12.
- Violence: 3/5 (several shootings but no blood detail. Mostly instant deaths and little suffering shown, but the violence is fairly constant with virtually no light relief)
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (a mother talks about losing her daughter. Major is upset by some revelations)
- Fear Factor: 2/5 (the geisha robots are disconcerting, and the swarm of bodies in the deep dive section is scary)
- Sexual Content: 1/5 (mild, mostly background references. When Major is ‘captured’ in the Yakuza bar the sleazy man says she should ‘have fun’ with them, and other men smirk)
- Bad Language: 1/5 (just one sentence from Batou with one moderate word and one mild word)
- Dialogue: 1/5 (Major struggles to feel for most of the film and expresses doubt as to her own existence)
- Other Notes: Deals with themes of what makes us human, bio-augmentation, self-identity, what happens when memories can’t be trusted, artificial intelligence, human experimentation, medical ethics, the power of big corporation and anti-terrorism.
Words by Michael Record