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The Ghost of an Idea

Scarlett Johansson does her best impression of a cartoon character in “Ghost in the Shell.”
  • Scarlett Johansson does her best impression of a cartoon character in “Ghost in the Shell.”

The title "Ghost in the Shell" is an ironic one. It's explained to Major (Scarlett Johansson) early on that the "Ghost" is her soul and that even though she is primarily made up of cybernetic pieces, she is still mostly a real girl because of the humanity she possesses underneath all the metal and futuristic construction.

Yet, "Ghost in the Shell" as a film or even as an adaptation of the well-regarded and much-loved Japanese Manga (and eventual anime) is completely soulless. There is no ghost in the machine here; just pretty images that seem innovative at first until the realization that Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and the work of Katsuhiro Otomo ("Akira" and "Neo Tokyo") did it decades ago and infinitely better. Even"The Matrix" still stands as something more-game changing than this derivative snooze fest.

There's a pretty funny Hollywood story about the producer Jon Peters, the man behind 1989's "Batman" and dozens of other classic movies. Peters was set to produce a new "Superman" movie in the early 1990s, with Kevin Smith set to write and direct. Peters had problems with the script and had three big changes he wanted to make.

The first was that he wanted to avoid all of Superman's iconic characteristics, so he envisioned him not flying or wearing his costume in the film. Secondly, he thought Sean Penn would be perfect for the role because he had the eyes of a "caged animal," somehow thinking Superman should be violent and intimidating.

Most importantly, he wanted Superman to fight a giant mechanical spider during the climax of the movie. That was Peters' deal breaker. Kevin Smith thought it was a terrible idea (he also really wanted Nicolas Cage to play the Man of Steel), so the movie was scrapped and fell apart. Peters continued to try to get a mechanical spider battle into his movies year after year until he finally succeeded in the terrible steampunk western "Wild Wild West" in 1999. Will Smith and Kevin Kline took on the spider and no one was impressed.

I bring up this story because after the repetitive story starts coming to its climax, after the audience has suffered a Scarlett Johansson performance devoid of anything resembling life (and after finally understanding why hack director Rupert Sanders whitewashed his lead actors with white folk), we get our big action finale: ScarJo fighting—I shit you not—something called a "Spider-Tank." It's exactly what it sounds like and renders what is already a laughably stupid movie into something bordering on self-parody.

"Ghost in the Shell" is that Spider-Tank: Something that sounds cool for a second but in practice is insultingly stupid to everyone who sees it. This film comes fully formed from the belly of the Hollywood machine, but without a Ghost to give it meaning and purpose. Instead, it's just another soulless creation: a Russian nesting doll with nothing inside it; promising a mystery but offering nothing.

Ghost in the Shell

Dir. Rupert Sanders

Grade: D+

Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Redmond Cinema


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