Film review: GHOST IN THE SHELL, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Ghost In The Shell is an adaptation of a popular Japanese graphic novel although it looks like it was spliced together from the DNA of Blade Runner and RoboCop with a dash of The Matrix. Like those films, Ghost in the Shell is set within a futuristic dystopia in which people have literally been submerged in questionable technology. Within this world the film touches on themes of identity, humanity, scientific tampering and the nature of reality.

In its vision of a future Earth, cybernetic enhancements allowing rapid learning and communication have become commonplace and the lines between human and cyborg have started to blur. Protecting this world is a security force of soldiers who have been given a cybernetic upgrade by scientists at the creepy Hanka Corporation.   Taking human machine integration a step further, Hanka scientist Dr Oulet (Juliette Binoche) had transplanted a human brain into a robot body creating an elite soldier named Major (Scarlett Johansson). When a mysterious hoodie-wearing hacker begins infiltrating Hanka executives’ cybernetics enhancements and physically killing people, Major delves into a dark virtual world to find him. Her search for the hacker, however, provides astonishing revelations about her past.

As its slightly obvious title tells us, Ghost In The Shell is a cautionary tale about the loss of human identity in a world of machines.  It’s a fascinating theme but one that was explored more powerfully and inventively 30 years ago in Robocop. For this type of lost identity tale to have much impact we have to feel for the character but Scarlett Johansson’s Major isn’t a particularly moving or sympathetic figure and she simply doesn’t convey the existential angst necessary to give this story real potency and emotional depth.

In addition to its existential themes the film touches on the contemporary issues of refugee deaths, exploitation of terrorism fears and the growing threat of cyber warfare. While these are vital concerns they’re not examined in a particularly insightful manner here.

Still, many viewers will want to see this film for two reasons, the first being its special effects driven depiction of a futuristic world. In this respect Ghost in the Shell succeeds. Director Rupert Sanders and cinematographer Jess Hall have conjured an impressively vivid and strange world that recalls the astonishing city-scapes in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Also, Sanders applies meticulous art direction in each scene with compositions often recalling the panels of a graphic novel.

The other lure for many people will be the action scenes and for the most part they’re fluent, vigorous and inventively staged. Also, the fact that we’re dealing with cyborgs allows us to forgive some unrealistic fighting techniques and the characters’ apparent indestructibility.

In the end, though, the film doesn’t quite engage the way it needed to. It’s an attractive shell but it’s heart doesn’t beat strongly enough.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Science Fiction.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Rupert Sanders.

Release date: 30th Mar 2017.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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