Disappointment in ‘The Shell’

The Ghost in the Shell directed by Rupert Sanders hails from a successful manga franchise and dutifully preserves the feel of a manga in film.

 The story centers around Major Mira Killian (played by Scarlett Johansson),  whose brain has been implanted in a super-capable android body and has been engineered to fight terrorism. Juliette Binoche (playing Dr. Ouelet) is excellent as the doctor behind the design and upkeep on Johansson’s super robot form.

Binoche is sort of like a charismatic and intelligent Dr. Frankenstein who has a deep connection with her monster/creation. There were times when I worried the role minimized Binoche’s acting talents but there is a great scene where she grapples with her superiors request to terminate Johansson as ‘the project’ became compromised.

The storyline of this movie was very fascinating, like in the beginning it made the audience play detective. There are a lot of independent, weird things going on (glitches in Johansen’s programming, unexplained matrix like ports on the back of her neck…), but it starts to come together as the story proceeds.

As it turns out, fighting the yakuza mob and other terrorists has been prioritized at the expense of some individual bodies.

 An engrossing bad guy named Kuze (Michael Pitt), reveals to Johannson that he is also an android/human combo like her, and their original bodies were painfully dissected to remodel them as machines.

 Dr. Ouelet confirms to Johansson that she has experimented on 98 separate people to create the final product: Johansson (Major Mira Killian).

Something about this movie felt like a three-film universe packed into 120 minutes to me. Some of the visuals were stunning (like water in the city’s hologram-lit harbor, or the blue electric currents passing through Johansson’s synthetic skin.) But gory moments effectively contradicted the dreamier feel of these nice images.

There’s a lot of exposition but still the plot feels flimsy. It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong, as there are a lot of good things about this movie, but it evades feeling deftly-made.

Johansson often stands on top of a building, dispensing her black robes and diving into the city to fight crime. It made me wonder where exactly she’s going (she can’t fly) and whether it might be faster to just call an uber or take a taxi.


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