The Japanese-set sci-fi suspense thriller Ghost in the Shell looks terrific and is filled with white people who graciously stepped in to fill the void left by the dearth of capable Asian actors. “Whitewashing” aside, the Scarlett Johansson starrer has enough entertainment value to make it worth a viewing, even if it is much more style than substance.
While it’s pretty mystifying that a modern-day movie could set a film in Japan and give the four biggest roles–all presumably Japanese in the original manga series and animated movie adaptation–to white people, Ghost in the Shell is an undeniably great-looking movie, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that it’s directed by Rupert Sanders, the man behind the great-looking-but-shallow Snow White and the Huntsman. No detail is left unnoticed, and Sanders uses vibrant colors and vivid special effects to bring to life a world where the line between humanity and robotics have blurred considerably.
Johansson is fine in the lead, even if she isn’t forced to act very hard and basically has to redo stunts from The Avengers movies. Her character is interesting enough, though based on the Wikipedia description of the acclaimed original, she has been altered in significant ways. The supporting cast is solid as well, though one of the two Asian actors (Chin Han) barely has anything to do and the other one (Takeshi Kitano) is stuck rambling on about vague things to give the plot forward momentum.
Throughout Ghost in the Shell, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the sheer beauty of it all, and the story, especially for those of us not familiar with the original manga series, is intriguing enough. The story, which involves an elite squad of government agents (or are they, it’s never quite clear?) hunting a half-man, half-cyborg thing that is killing scientists, keeps you guessing for a while.
Unfortunately, Ghost in the Shell, like Snow White and the Huntsman, is more beauty than brains. While it presents the aura of intelligence, largely thanks to the complex world in which the characters reside, the plot is surprisingly straightforward and lacking richness of detail, which works for a while until everything comes together and you’re left saying, “That’s it?” The film’s climax is generally nonsensical, an unmemorable series of action scenes and explanatory scenes that feel as if Rupert is setting up a sequel rather than trying to wrap up a unique story.
Ghost in the Shell is close to being a really good movie. Even with its ultimately so-so story, a couple more elaborate action scenes could have made up for it–as is, Sanders never really delivers a top-tier action sequence, even though he seemingly has the visual chops for it–and a more brazen ending would have pushed the movie up a level. As is, it’s a moderately entertaining, slick-looking thriller that disconnects before realizing its full potential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.