“The shell belongs to them, but not your ghost.” This quote has been pinging around my head since I got home from a screening of what turned out to be an extremely disappointing film, Ghost in the Shell. The shell in this case, is the completely miscast Scarlett Johansson, her of the ivory white skin and Avengers fame. The ghost in this case is the ideas about consciousness, A.I., and other topics that should titilate the brain. However, the combination of these two things manages to add up to little more than a visual fest for the eyes (till it’s not) and wastes its intriguing premises.
Movies, particularly ones that are classically structure as Ghost in the Shell is, are supposed to unfurl in interesting, yet predictable ways. Ghost in the Shell however, loses much of its power the further along the story goes. How is this possible? The plot of a synth-human weapon named Major potentially reaching consciousness via the glitches she’s experiencing is rather fascinating as is the battle between science (Juliette Binoche, brilliant in this picture) and military (Peter Ferdinando). But the movie uses this as a red herring a bit, it’s really a film about a silly villain plot that thinks it’s being smarter than it is. I couldn’t help but get more and more dismayed as the plot moved from thought provoking drama mixed with manhunt elements moved into wronged creation/potential cover up. It’s as severe a letdown as any movie I’ve seen recently, and it ends up dragging the previously stellar visuals with it.
Much has been made of Scarlett Johansson casting and as the movie proceeds, it becomes more and more obnoxious and more offensive, especially given her character’s backstory and connection she makes to a Japanese woman. Movies requiring suspension of disbelief are one thing. Movies requiring the suspension of my eyes and intelligence are another. ScarJo’s performance in this film is fine, but the more the movie unravels it’s tale and explores her space in the world, she becomes a sore thumb and not a simple host. This also extends past Johansson. Ferdinando, Binoche, the game Pilou Asbek, and Michael Pitt, are all major characters that have extreme connections to this pilot and the enhanced characters, are all white. In this way, Ghost in the Shell is like a parody of itself in almost every aspect. You can have the neo-Japanese setting, the imagery, and the source material, but in order to be presentable, you need European features. This isn’t a movie making a statement about how perception can be shifted depending on storytelling needs, this is purely because they wanted the box office. A movie in which a Japanese man speaking strictly in Japanese (the marvelous Takeshi Kitano) shouldn’t have had an issue with putting non-Euroethnic actors in the lead roles.
Ghost in the Shell manages to maintain a decent veneer but I’m afraid the only ghost will be the people who were unfortunate to be subjected to the third act of this movie. There’s more I need to get into, but I’ll do it in a spoiler section.
SPOILER ALERT YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
I cannot believe these fools sat here and lied about this character not having an identity and then had her be an Asian girl’s brain in a white woman’s body and Michael Pitt hosting an Asian guy. THE MOTHER FUCKING NERVE OF THIS FILM. It’s hard enough to have them being the main focus for this film set in Japan, but to have their minds put in white people is a mess.
Ghost in the Shell never really makes any significant strides to identify how wrong this is racially. They do it morally, what with the villain just snatching people up because they are anti-enhancement, but they missed several crucial chances to tie this back to race. For a movie that spent a great deal of time telling us rather than showing, leaving this up to audience interpretation is trash.