Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

Ghost in the Shell is set in a future where most people are augmented with enhancements that allow them to perform tasks in vastly improved ways. Scarlett Johansson plays Major Mira Killian, a former refugee whose parents died in a terrorist attack that destroyed her body. In order to save her life a thinly veiled evil corporation puts her brain into a cybernetic body. The scientist who lead the project explains that her robot body, or shell, has her soul, or ghost, in it. They use those exact words so the audience doesn't have to figure out the complex title of the movie on their own. Mira is the first of her kind and the good scientist who made her thinks of her as a person while the evil corporate man thinks of her as a weapon and immediately transfers her into a special forces police unit without any training or qualification other than having a robot body. This all happens within the first three minutes. 

From beginning to end GitS follows a new story about the Major as she questions if her memories are real and who she used to be. They pull some of the more memorable scenes from the original pretty much shot for shot, but a lot of it comes across pretty awkwardly. The new story is pretty boilerplate and is full of cliches. At certain points I was able to say lines of dialog before the character did because of how predictable the writing was. The Major lacks any of the agency or confidence that her original incarnation did. She is reactionary instead of proactive. She acts like a moody teenage who has just been scolded by her parents. She comes across as a brat instead of a Major in a special forces unit. 

There were several other changes that were made for seemingly no reason. Sergeant Batou, played by Michael Pitt, has normal human eyes for the first third of the movie and then loses them. The change doesn't add anything, but just seems like another example of the filmmakers not trusting the audience to accept that he has robot eyes without an explanation. The problem is that it actually raises more questions. After his surgery he tells the Major that he got tactical eye replacements that work like hers, but then why do his look so different and mechanical while the Major's look organic? The answer in reality is that they had to make him look like the cartoon, but they don't give an answer in the movie nor expect you to ask the question.

The city they created for the movie does look pretty spectacular with giant hologram advertisements permeating the skyline including one that is a shiba inu sitting at a desk promoting a news broadcast. The beginning of the deep dive sequence in particular looks incredible. The supporting cast all give solid performances, but while the original felt like an ensemble, this version really only focuses on the Major and the villain neither of which give good performances. Beat Takeshi feels particularly wasted. If the movie focused on the whole cast rather than just the big name star they signed, they probably could have produced a more cohesive and engaging plot. The best the rest of the cast gets are short shootout scenes and Batou drinking a 40 in a club.

 You will almost assuredly guess the next plot reveal long before the character do. Characters act without thinking of any consequences. At one point Batou blind fires at the prime suspect in their case as the Major stands right next to him. It was reminiscent of the scene in iRobot where Bridget Moynahan shoots a robot near Will Smith with her eyes closed, but at least iRobot called that action out.

Ghost in the Shell looks to recreate the dark future of the original, but ultimately ends up a hollow imitation. Ironically 'ghost' and 'shell' are two words that pretty aptly describe this remake. It seems like a shame that by trying to slave itself to the old style of the original, it ends up falling short of anything original or memorable. It feels longer than it is, which is one of the worst things you can say about a movie.

2/5