In a futuristic world where humans can be “enhanced” and nothing is quite what it seems, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a “miracle”—a human brain in a machine body. Maybe her lack of an actual heart explains why this visually stunning movie fails to connect on an emotional level. 2 out of 5.
Major was saved from certain death and reconfigured to be a crime-fighting machine. Her elite unit is hot on the trail of a terrorist who can hack into people’s minds when Major learns a secret—about herself. Everything she knows about herself may actually be a lie. Now she’ll stop at nothing to learn the truth. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, The Ghost in the Shell.
It looks fantastic; it feels like anime come to life. In Major’s world, giant holographic images vie with skyscrapers for most interesting skyline feature. Giant goldfish swim lazily through crowds, even the bad parts of town look great in an abandoned ruin kind of way. There are cables everywhere, often plugged into people. Or cyborgs—it’s so hard to tell them apart that even characters ask each other to identify their species. If you go, opt for a 3D showing; the effects are worth the upcharge. It’s always fun to see Scarlett Johansson kick a little bad guy butt and Ghost does not disappoint on that count. I’m not clear why she felt the need to perform several SWAT-like ops in her birthday suit—maybe clothing impedes her ability to go invisible or bust through windows—but she’s basically a robot in a mannequin suit so it’s not explicit, just odd.
There’s not much of a plot and no real subplot, either. Sure, it looks cool and there’s a high shoot-em-up quotient, but even when Major or her pals were in peril it was hard to care. The whole people/computer interface was interesting but nothing we haven’t seen before. If you’re looking for a movie to get excited about, this is probably not it.
This was weird: Major’s boss doesn’t speak English, so you’ll have to read subtitles for his lines. I’m not opposed to subtitles in principle, but why does this one character speak Japanese when everyone around him is speaking English, even when talking to him? They manage to communicate despite the language difference, but there’s just no logic to it.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
“Humanity,” Major muses, “is our virtue.” Which explains a lot about why characters act as they do. With no absolutes of good and evil in place, people feel free to “enhance” themselves and others, often with disastrous effect. In this worldview, a person’s soul is connected to their mind; together they make up a person’s “ghost” which apparently lives in their physical brain. It could be an interesting post-movie conversation: how much of your body do you have to lose before you lose “you”?
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images
- Language/Profanity: Pretty mild, considering: maybe one “sh**” and references to pi**, (saving my) as*, and getting scre*ed (by memories, not by another character). A middle finger is pointed in a joking manner.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Major likes to tackle difficult stunts in the buff, but as a cyborg her version of “nudity” is akin to a department store mannequin. It’s weird but not what one would necessarily consider erotic. (Though there’s no accounting for tastes.) One scene shows Major with a (male? It’s hard to tell) prostitute but she only touches his/her face with no apparent motive other than to understand what it feels like to feel.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Major is a weapon who is deployed on a regular basis. That is to say there’s a lot of fighting, most of it quite impressive. There’s also a significant amount of fairly indiscriminate shooting, resulting in a high body count but very little blood. To summarize: things and people get beaten up, shot up, and blown up throughout. One more thing: some “people” come apart in interesting but kind of creepy ways.
Drugs/Alcohol: Major takes “medicine” that is supposedly an anti-rejection drug (or is it?). One team member brags about how his enhanced liver gives him the ability to drink more. Several people shown drinking, one chain-smokes, and we’re not quite sure what people may be ingesting through the cords plugged into their necks.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Japanese Manga in general and this one in particular, though they may be disappointed by the story. Sci-fi fans, conspiracy buffs, and people who will enjoy some pretty fabulous special effects.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Viewers who don’t enjoy futuristic settings, are creeped out by a world that blurs the lines between human and machine, or who prefer stories that appeal to the heart as well as the head.
Ghost in the Shell, directed by Rupert Sanders, opens in theaters March 31, 2017. It runs 107 minutes and stars Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Christopher Obi, Pilou Asbæk, Josep Naufahu, Takeshi Kitano and Juliette Binoche. Watch the trailer for Ghost in the Shell here.
Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).
Publication date: March 31, 2017