Hollywood is in the business of destroying good things, and the new Ghost in the Shell movie achieves that with flying colors. It’s a disservice to the original animated film from the mid-1990s, to Asians, and to the world in general.
In the not-too-distant future, it’ll be commonplace for people to have themselves cybernetically enhanced to compensate for weakness or disability, to give themselves superhuman abilities, or just for the heck of it. Mara Killian (played by Scarlett Johansson) represents a breakthrough because she hasn’t been just upgraded; she’s been virtually replaced. She drowned, and the only part of her they were able to salvage was her brain (her memories, thoughts, personality, and soul—her “ghost”), which they implanted in an entirely robotic body (the “shell”).
Now, Mara goes by the name Major, and she’s part of a group of super soldiers. They’re investigating an assassination and what appears to be a plot against the robotics company that made her. A hacker is taking over robotic assistance and cybernetic enhancements, and during a mind meld with one of the robots that had gone bad, she may have herself gotten infected with some kind of virus.
There are so many things that this film had to draw from, and perhaps part of its failure is trying to take too much from everything else. Of course, there’s the original version of the film, and the plot has more than a little in common with RoboCop. Visually, the movie looks like the ADHD-riddled crack baby of Blade Runner and the year 2015 scenes from Back to the Future Part II. It’s simultaneously futuristic and post-apocalyptic, with everyone in need of a shower, and the city comprised entirely of damp, run-down slums illuminated by the garish cityscape full of holograms and display screens. And don’t get me started on just how awful the Max Headroom glitches are, but fortunately, they’re mostly contained to a fairly short, but extremely painful scene.
Then there’s the film’s racial insensitivity. This is particularly shocking, both because of how egregious it is, and because of how much outcry there was when they announced that the very non-Asian Johansson was cast in the role that was expected to be an Asian character, (and that seemed to come not too far after the uproar over Emma Stone playing a Chinese-Hawaiian woman in Aloha). They didn’t bother keeping their mouths shut on the subject of race and hoping that everyone would ignore it. Instead, they doubled down on the matter and revealed that Mara was formerly an Asian woman before they put her in a white body. And on top of all of that, when we meet her Asian mother, we’re subjected to some of the most painful and pointless exposition in recent memory.
Some of these faults might have been easier to overlook (or at least downplay) if there had been anything at all worthwhile in the film. Its vision of the future is idiotic, and in many ways is even less advanced than our actual present. The whole movie is short on action, but the ending is especially anticlimactic before giving us a parting shot that is that inane crouch on a rooftop overlooking the city that is apparently required to be in every superhero movie (not that there’s anything super or heroic about this one).
Ghost in the Shell is just terrible. If you want to see a far better movie about a human brain transplanted into a robotic body, do yourself a favor and track down a VHS copy of the Paul Walker/Denise Richards/Terry Kiser crapsterpiece that is Tammy and the T-Rex.