'Ghost in the Shell' eliminates deep think in favor of deep action

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Ghost' stars Scarlett Johansson as Major, who is tasked with eliminating cyber terrorists. The movie's depiction of a futuristic world is easily its most impressive aspect, but saying this is a bit like praising a restaurant for its décor.

Jasin Boland/Paramount Pictures/AP
'Ghost in the Shell' stars Scarlett Johansson (l.) and Michael Pitt (r.).

When it was first announced two years ago that Scarlett Johansson had been cast as the killer cyborg in the live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Japanimation classic “Ghost in the Shell,” the choice was loudly condemned by those who felt the role should have gone to an Asian actress. Now that we have the redo, directed by Rupert Sanders, it’s clear that her casting is the least of the movie’s problems.

As classic dystopian visions go, the Japanese "Ghost in the Shell" film is on a short list that includes “Metropolis,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Matrix.” Sanders’s version dispenses with most of the humans versus bots philosophical speculations that characterized its precursor and instead rapidly morphs into a CGI-heavy pulp-action splatterfest about Major (Johansson), who has a human brain and bot body and is tasked by Section 9 security with eliminating cyber terrorists from a world that looks like a super-steroidal, futuristic mashup of Hong Kong and Tokyo. The depiction of this world, at least in visual terms, is easily the movie’s most impressive aspect. But saying this is a bit like praising a restaurant for its décor.

It’s unfortunate, if predictable, that Hollywood found it necessary to almost entirely eliminate deep think in favor of deep action. As for Johansson, I have no big problem with cross-racial casting, but she’s so glum and seemingly uncomfortable here that you wonder if maybe she didn’t harbor the same misgivings as her detractors. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content, and some disturbing images.)  

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.