Rupert Sander's Ghost in The Shell's visually striking world-building ultimately can't overcome the film's underlying simplicity, being a film that feels very by-the-numbers, plodding along with no real sense of spirit or emotion, following the narrative beats in which the film shows only an interest in reaching its conclusion, uninterested in the moral complexities of the journey itself to get there. Taking place in the near future, Ghost in the Shell is the story of Major, who is the first of her kind- a cyber-enhanced super-soldier whose only organic material is the human brain. A weapon for the government, Major is devoted to stopping the world's most notorious criminals, but when she learns that she was lied to about her past, she sets out to rediscover her identity and find out who is responsible for essentially taking her life from her. Full disclosure: Having not seen the original Ghost in the Shell in nearly two decades, much of the original film's story-line and themes are lost on me, yet the new adaption dances around fascinating themes of individualism and collectivism, before falling victim to the same old, tired 'corporate greed' narrative that makes much of cinema these days unbearably daft and intellectually bankrupt. Through Major's journey to discover herself, Ghost in the Shell touches on some fascinating themes of the importance of individualism, exhibiting how technology and "progress" almost always strip away the individuals' free will, with automation being the ultimate enemy of an individual. Early on the film fully trumpets that our individualism, what makes us different and free as human-beings is our greatest virtue, yet the film fails to draw the distinction between humanity and individualism by the time the credits role, instead only making this a man vs. machine assertion. Major, the victim of a government program "designed to protect us", is a grave threat to the powers that be due to her desire to think and act for herself, but the film fails to explore this idea of forced collectivism by authoritative forces, instead it takes the easy way out through the character of Cutter, a greedy corporatism whose contract with the government enables him to effectively steal the mind and spirit of individuals to fuel this anti-terrorist government program. The film has so much potential in its ability to present a lens to the current state of our own government and the world, revolving around fighting terrorism and rampant cronyism, yet it lazily falls back on this simplistic character of Cutter, whom it can place all its blame. Besides the massive missed opportunity the film presents on a cultural and philosophical level, Ghost in the Shell's direction is lacking, as Sander's once again shows himself as a director who can effectively create an aesthetic but struggles mightily when it comes to action set pieces. Much of the action throughout Ghost in the Shell is underwhelming, especially when juxtaposed against the visually striking aesthetic, delivering straight-forward gunplay and mediocre fight choreography that by-and-large fail to pay off the film's fantastical world. A by-the-numbers remake that lacks any true soul, outside of its rather heavy-handed assertions about our humanity being a virtue in a digital age, Rupert Sander's Ghost in the Shell is a visually striking but ultimately vapid piece of cinema that is perhaps best observed on "mind-enhancing" drugs.
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