Author: JoAnne Hyde
Date: March 30, 2017

SYNOPSIS: In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people's minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, "The Ghost in the Shell."

Ghost in the Shell is a niche film for the manga/anime folks, and from the size of the pre-screening crowd, that’s a substantial niche.

Director Rupert Sanders brings hints of Blade Runner and The Matrix into his visual styling for the film. Filmed in New Zealand and China, the setting is a large futuristic, Asian city fraught with gigantic advertising holograms, bright neon lights, damp and dirty slums, and a significant crime problem.

Scarlett Johansson plays Major, a first-of-its-kind advancement of blending humans with technology. In this future world, many humans have already “enhanced” themselves with technological implants, but Major is a completely synthetic body with an intact human brain. The brain, or “ghost”, survives in a bodily structure that makes it the ultimate weapon. Major, developed by Hanka Robotics, is assigned to Section 9, a terrorism fighting law enforcement agency to work alongside Sgt. Batou (Pilou Asbaek), and Officer Ladriya (Danusia Samal). They’re directed by a liaison between the government and Hanka, Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano in easily the best performance in the film.

A series of murders of the scientists and doctors who worked on Project 225, which created Major, have wreaked havoc on both Hanka and the government. Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) tells Major that she’s the only one of her kind, but Major’s human brain begins to wonder.

There are two ostensible villains in the film, but one is quite a sympathetic character. The murders have been traced to a “person” named Kuze (Michael Pitt). Kuze turns out to be not just a “person” and is connected somehow to Major. Both Kuze and Major are targeted by the head of Hanka, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) who believes that human brains do not belong in cyborgs because they eventually begin to think for themselves, therefore losing their value as weapons.

After tracking down Kuze, Major becomes determined to learn the truth about her past. She has started to doubt Dr. Ouelet’s story that she and her parents were refugees, and her parents were killed in a terrorist attack on their boat which Major somehow survived – or at least her brain did. Dr. Ouelet explains that her body was too damaged to salvage, so they just created her a new one. Kuze tells her a different version saying, “They didn’t save your life. They stole it.”

Moving through the otherworldly environment of the city, Major and her team encounter violent fights and shoot-outs with a plethora of bad guys. But it’s not always easy to tell who the bad guys are. As Major sees only hazy and incomplete scenes when she tries to remember her former life, the lines of reality are often blurred as well. The fight scenes are done well enough, but they’re also repetitive. I felt like I was watching the same one over and over. The film’s pace is also a bit slow.

While Ghost in the Shell is interesting, it’s not compelling. - JoAnne Hyde


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