Before I write the opening line of my review of Ghost in the Shell, I want you to go back and look at all the reviews I have provided for Out & About this year. You’ll see that there is a lot of positivity from me, even for movies that other critics didn’t like.
Are you back now?
See how nice I am? Maybe you’re starting to believe that the reason I gave so many bad reviews last year is because there are so many bad movies? No?
Oh well. Here’s the Demetri you’ve come to expect -- Ghost in the Shell is what you get if the only movie you ever allowed a chimp to watch was 1995’s cyber punk Strange Days and then gave that chimp a typewriter and said, “Have at it, Captain Bananas!”
It’s unimaginative, uninteresting and so unoriginal that I actually found myself wondering if this movie had been left to rot in a studio vault for a decade and a half before it was released.
Here’s all I knew about Ghost in the Shell going in -- it was based on a Japanese cartoon. I had a college roommate who watched the cartoon. All I knew about it was that when that cartoon came on Adult Swim, there was no more Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Harvey Birdman coming on and I could call it a night.
The story is set in a future where humans have learned to enhance themselves with robot parts but apparently haven’t figured out how to design any graphic or animation that looks more sophisticated than Pac-Man. The opening scene of this movie, where our hero Major’s body is being built, sort of looks like the intro to West World without any robot sex.
The city, which is never named, but is clearly some futuristic version of Tokyo, is filled with projected images of athletes and shaman. Giant virtual fish float in above the streets. Everything about this movie looks and feels like it was made in the mid 90s, when the internet was new and making technology simultaneously enticing and scary. It’s a wonder Ghost in the Shell’s soundtrack wasn’t filled with Korn and Public Enemy.
The only thing about Major (Scarlett Johansen) that is human is her brain. She is told that she is the perfect weapon that way. Her mind is her ghost. It allows her to have thoughts and emotions. Her body isn’t real though. It’s just a shell.
I am not trying to be cute here. If you’re worried you may forget the name of the movie you’re watching, the writers have been kind enough to use the words “ghost” and “shell” about 300 times a piece throughout the script.
So Major and her team fight terrorists. The one they are on the trail of now is named Kuze (Seven Psychopaths’ Michael Carmen Pitt). He hacks the minds of enhanced people and gets them to turn on one another and themselves as part of a plot to destroy the corporation that built Major. I have a lot of notes written in my journal about this movie, but they all come back to the same thing. Ghost in the Shell is everything you’ve seen before.
It’s weird that it’s coming out just a few short months after Dr. Strange. It makes me wonder if the end of this decade will be full of movies that would seem super cool and original if only Blade Runner, the Fifth Element and The Matrix didn’t exist.
The production design of Ghost in the Shell is weird too. According to the Financial Times, $120 million was sunk into this movie, but it looks so cheap. Seriously, the way the characters are designed and the look they have given to the city invokes more of a mid 90s Van Dam movie than a nine-figure Hollywood blockbuster.
I know there are people who love this franchise. Clearly, I am not one you can count amongst them. Ghost in the Shell is as bored as I have been in a theater in a long time. Shoot ‘em up popcorn flicks like this come out all the time.
They usually try to make up for a nonsensical script full of awful dialogue (my personal favorite in this movie is when a dying colleague tells Major, “The shell belongs to them but they can’t control your ghost”) with exciting visuals. There’s nothing about Ghost in the Shell that makes me think anyone left that set feeling like they did their best work.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network. He can be heard weekday mornings from 6-10 on "The Morning Show with Mike, Lauren and Demetri" on Buzz Sports Radio.