Starring: Scarlett Johannsen, Pilou Asbaek, Peter Ferdinando, Juliette Binoche, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt
Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence, Suggestive Images and Some Disturbing Images
There are special effects movies ("The Rock"). There are special effects movies (any "Star Wars" movie). And then there's this new iteration of "Ghost in the Shell." I have nothing against special effects in movies, even if they are all encompassing. Take "The Lord of the Rings" or "Star Wars" (especially the prequels) for example. Green screens, miniatures, manipulative camera angles, and of course, computers, were utilized to give these films the maximum visual flair. However, in those cases, they were used judiciously and with a certain amount of restraint. Rupert Sanders didn't take that lesson. His remake of the 1995 anime is so overblown with special effects and color that he makes Michael Bay look like a Merchant/Ivory pupil.
In the future, the line between human and machine is being blurred. Humans still exist, and while the film doesn't go into detail it's probable that they're born the natural way. Not answering this question was a poor decision on the part of Rupert Sanders, since a sex scene would have livened things up. But they do have the ability to augment themselves with machines, such as eyes that allow them to see in heat vision or through objects. Now, the line is being muddled even further; a biotech company has just inserted a human brain into a machine, giving her the abilities of both. She is known as the Major (Johannsen). She was once a human refugee, but her boat was attacked by terrorists. Her brain was saved by Dr. Oulet (Binoche) and now she is a secret agent for the government. Her task is to track down a potentially violent hacker by the name of Kuze (Pitt), who can infiltrate robots. But Kuze may not be all he seems to be, which throws everything the Major thinks she knows into question.
The difference between a good special effects picture and a bad one is knowing how to use them well. Good special effects movies, such as any of the movies I mentioned above or, say, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is that they used them in service to the story. In addition to providing the thrills and oohs and ahhs, they created worlds for the characters and the stories to exist in and explore. That doesn't happen here. Sanders simply throws everything he can think of, regardless of whether they fit in with the scenario or make sense. Presumably this is to camouflage the fact that he doesn't have much of a story. Or at least a screenplay that makes it possible to care about anyone or anything in it.
What is Scarlett Johannsen doing here? One of the most talented, respected and well-paid stars in Hollywood, she can do anything she wants. Her name on a marquee makes cash registers sing, regardless of what it is or if it's any good. So why would she choose a film that's so bad and in a role in which she's so obviously miscast. She's too talented to be bad, but the character is so obviously written for an Asian actress. It's not like there aren't any to choose from. Wasn't Ziyi Zhang available?
She's surrounded by a solid supporting cast, few of whom should be anywhere near this movie. Pilou Asbaek looks straight out of an anime, Michael Pitt (using his middle name now, apparently) plays a villain who is both creepy and sympathetic. Japanese legend "Beat" Takeshi appears, and the film finds a moderately clever way to deal with the fact that he never speaks English. And if you thought it was odd that ScarJo was in something this insipid, imagine how hard it is to believe that the highly respected French actress Juliette Binoche here. Binoche is a notoriously choosy actress, having turned down Hollywood many times (including the role of Ellie Sattler in "Jurassic Park"). I guess she's had a change of heart, since she appeared in the latest "Godzilla" movie (albeit briefly).
The bottom line is that this movie just isn't worth your time.