The live-action Ghost in the Shell is a box office dud then, and there are people who are really happy about that. Not necessarily because they are die-hard fans of the original Japanese manga and anime, but because of so-called “whitewashing”.
To some, this movie was actually an “opportunity” to cast a hitherto largely unknown Japanese or Asian-American actress, instead of a big Hollywood star. But Paramount hired Scarlett Johansson, the Tony Award-winning actress who looks good in a catsuit.
Her character is Mira, or Major. Created by the shadowy Hanka Robotics, her brain is housed in a fully cybernetic body. People have all kinds of cutting-edge enhancements, like X-ray vision, but we’re told Mira is the first of her kind and the future of humanity.
As an agent of an elite government task force called Section 9, she is dispatched across a grimy, futuristic city to fight criminals, like the mysterious hacker Kuze. (Forget whitewashing – the robot workforce is coming to take everyone’s jobs.)
There were very mature themes and concepts that were posed by the cult 1995 anime movie. But this 12A (or PG-13) remake
really struggles doesn’t really bother with questions like: “What is it to be human in a technologically advanced society?”
Ghost is basically a dark, stylish actioner that doesn’t get too philosophical. As with director Rupert Sanders’ debut movie Snow White and the Huntsman, it is remarkable for dazzling visuals and sounds.
The performances do match the spectacle, with Pilou Asbæk as Major’s second in command Batou, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano as the boss of Section 9, Juliette Binoche as the scientist Dr Oulet, and Michael Pitt as the villain Kuze. Johansson, for her part, has onscreen appeal and proven action prowess. She might not be able to open a $100 million movie, but she can carry one.
This isn’t a kitschy fun film, like Johansson’s 2014 sci-fi hit Lucy. It isn’t as famous a property as other recent blockbuster releases, like ‘Kong’ or ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and it just didn’t capture the public imagination. Ultimately, Ghost was probably doomed to fail.
Still, it isn’t the travesty that the 46% Rotten Tomatoes rating suggests. (The casting negativity may have had a discouraging effect on critics.) Yes, the story needed more work, but the soundtrack, the cool visuals, and the acting make it a solid three out of five stars.