Ghost in the Shell (2017)

“She’s no longer a viable asset.”

Whether it be a person, a film, a book, or a business, names bring personal and irrelevant associations. My favorites are those that plainly announce what they are, and they’re bountiful in the cornfields of my home state Indiana. You’re always bound to find five plainly labeled things: a place to eat, drink beer, buy liquor, worship, and stow your money. Driving up to my family cottage on Lake of the Woods and idling through the town of Ashley where there is a speed limit sign every some 50 yards supports this truth. Deano’s Diner. Beer’s Pub & Grub. The Bottle Shop. Ashley Church of God. Garrett State Bank. You know what these places offer just by reading their names. And by comparison, Ghost in the Shell and its eldritch title is no more accomplished than these rural outposts. It’s cold to the touch and hollow at its core.

I have never seen the original anime, and yet as distanced as I am from the source material, watching director Rupert Sanders’ take this on felt like I was chewing on boiled bones already rid of their meat. Tasteless, rubbery and vulcanized to some degree. Where’s the salt and the garlic and the fat needed to bring this pile of slop a bit of flavor and brightness? But then again, those components and the film’s whitewashing would go against the picture’s unsaturated look as well as its misguided Japanese sensibilities. Little to no cultural modes of greetings or customs make their way into this movie, and it’s a disgrace for trying to appropriate in a way so that American’s might be able to understand. This isn’t a story by Whites, nor is it for them, and that reduces the meaning to little more than a Ghost in the Shell for Dummies guide.

Scarlett Johansson stars as the sonorous Major, a cyborg soldier with no memory of her past. She’s a perfect killing machine. Her partner named Batou (Pilou Asbæk) looks and acts a whole lot like Rutger Hauer’s character in Blade Runner. They fight terrorism and people hack minds and lies are learned to be pervasive throughout. And honestly, that’s probably as much of the plot as I need to lay out before you could fill in the expected blueprint of the film. Ghost in the Shell boasts striking visuals, strong set design, and reliably excellent cinematography from Jess Hall, yet is hampered by its own pernicious self-defeatism. This is a cyberpunk outfit dressed on an unoriginal and unexciting ingenue (a word that if you Google, a picture of Johansson’s face serendipitously turns up).

Based on what I was able to gather from this heavy husk, Ghost in the Shell seems to be a story questioning three things: the overlooked and thus permissible behavior of tyrants, the required consent from their obedient constituents, and the seemingly inevitable clash between the two. Read that sentence and you’re right to expect a dissection of futuristic caste systems and the password granting access to the film’s firewalled head. But that’s not this movie. It’s an unforgivably blockbuster mess, and the backstory to explain its whitewashing doesn’t only come across as insulting, but also tries to turn us into shill accomplices guilty by association just for watching the damn movie in the first place. Looks can be deceiving.

“You have no heart.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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