Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

By  | 

The opening of the live action adaption of the Japanese anime, “Ghost in the Shell,” is nothing short of eye-catching.  A human brain is encased in metal and fused into a full synthetic shell.  The mechanized skeleton is then immersed in a blood red and milky white liquid.  It emerges in a perfect humanoid form.

A shell-shocked woman (Scarlett Johansson; “The Avengers” series, “Her“) saved from a near-death incident wakes up in a lab, finding that her brain is intact, but the rest of her is manufactured, courtesy of a corporation named Hanka Robotics.  The lead scientist that greets her, Dr. Ouellet (Juliette Binoche), seems caring, but something ominous is going on.  The CEO of the corporation, Cutter, (Peter Ferdinando), solely treats the woman as an asset, a weapon that must be controlled.

A year later, that woman becomes Major, commander of Section 9, a terrorist-fighting unit led by a Japanese chief, Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano).  Major, accompanied by right-hand man Batoe (Pilou Asbaek), leads a team of cyber-enhanced people to fight crimes. One of those crimes is a major hacking and murders of Hanka scientists done by a mysterious being named Kuze (Michael Pitt). Those scientists worked Project 2571, a secret project that birthed Major.

When Major tracks down Kuze and finally connects with him, she finds that her existence may not be what it seems.  And that the medication supplied from Hanka is intended to suppress her memory about her past.

Visually, the movie encapsulates a depressing vision of the world where cyborgs are all the rage and cyber crimes are even more threatening.  Director Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman“) uses a moody palette, illuminating the futuristic megapolis with looming holograms and neon lights, and using slow motion in capturing Major’s movements in all her sleek beauty and translucency.  Diving down from a skyscraper, rising above a shallow pool, shattering tower glass and sliding into attack mode.  Although as arresting as the aesthetics are, they get a bit monotone after a while.

The premise has potentials, exploring life as a human with a robotic body and what it means for humanity if someone like Major is mass-produced.

The whitewashing, while controversial, is a non-issue in the context of this story, as it has an explanation.  What’s more notable is the story only goes surface-deep, halting at the stage where Major discovers her identity.  It could  have spent more time on the backstory and character development, and less on fancy fights.  It’s hard to care when you hardly know the characters.  A much better film three years ago, “Ex-Machina,” delivers both on the futuristic visual and philosophical level.

“Ghost in the Shell” is a shiny shell.  It’s pretty to look at, but lacking in soul.

Copyright (c) 2017.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.