Ghost in the Shell: When filmmakers choose style over substance

Published: April 19, 2017

Even if you have misgivings about the alleged whitewashing, you will find it hard to deny that the American actress is still solid in the lead role. PHOTO: IMDb

Almost everyone’s vision of the (very distant) future is bound to include robots and robotics playing an integral role in everyday human lives. The future envisioned in the film Ghost in the Shell is no different, but it takes the concept one step further, leading us to a setting where the line between human and machine is fast disappearing.

The westernised adaptation of the Japanese science-fiction manga classic finds humans living in a world where, thanks to advancements in technology, people now have the option to enhance themselves with cybernetic parts. But Hanka Robotics, the globe’s leading developer of such augmentation, has also developed the technology to transplant a human brain into a synthetic body. This project results in the creation of Major (Scarlett Johansson), a military operative with a human soul in a synthetic shell who can’t recall much about her past. When the cybernetics firm that created her comes under attack, Major finds herself pursuing the elusive Kuze (Michael Pitt). Along the way, she discovers disturbing things about her origin that leave her unsure of who to trust.

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Photo: IMDb

She eventually finds herself on a mission to unravel the controversy at the heart of her existence, as film director Rupert Sanders and his crew opt to send their protagonist on an action quest instead of choosing a more philosophical path. The film has a fascinating setting but pairs it with a fairly standard plot. Ghost in the Shell raises some intriguing questions, but then instead of answering them, it goes into conventional action movie territory.

Visually, the film is stunning and creates an interesting, detailed world. But without an equally riveting story to go with the gorgeous visuals, the movie leaves you with the sense that the filmmakers have gone for style over substance.

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Photo: IMDb

The film’s multinational cast delivers good performances. Even if you have misgivings about the alleged whitewashing, you will find it hard to deny that the American actress is still solid in the lead role. You will probably find it even harder to deny that her presence has helped raise the profile of this movie, putting it on the radar for viewers who might have otherwise never come across this project.

Jacqueline Lee Geurts in Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Photo: IMDb

As for the quite diverse supporting cast, the standouts include Danish actor Pilou Asbæk who plays Major’s cybernetic-eyed fellow operative Batou, French actress Juliette Binoche who portrays the protagonist’s designer Dr Ouelet, and Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano who appears as the operatives’ chief Daisuke Aramaki.

Takeshi Kitano and Rupert Sanders in Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Photo: IMDb

All in all, Ghost in the Shell could certainly have benefited from following a more original route and from delving deeper beneath its shiny surface. But while the film may not have the depth you’d wish for, it does have an interesting premise at its core and offers some impressive action sequences and beautiful visuals. Ultimately, it may not be as impressive for fans of the material that inspired it, but the movie still serves as an engaging piece that could introduce the franchise to a wider audience and inspire viewers to discover the work it is based on.

Sameen Amer

Sameen Amer

The author is a Lahore-based freelance writer and critic. She tweets as @Sameen (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Omar K Cheema

    this movie is a remake of the wildly popular original anime, which came out in the 80s.
    During the 80’s even raising the existential questions , that this film does, was considered groundbreaking.
    The fact that the author decided to critique the remake as a stand alone film, instead of how well it paid homage to the original, goes to show that the author is not aware of the phenomenon that was the original Ghost in the Shell.

    This film is not for new audiences, this film is for fans of the originalRecommend