Ghost in the Shell (2017)

D+ SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

Scarlett Johansson is becoming — no, at this point it’s safe to say she is — the default Hollywood poster girl for transhumanism.

She’s played a member of a clone community cultivated as organ donors to extend the lives of the wealthy and powerful (The Island); a seductive predator whose human appearance hides an alien body (Under the Skin); an artificial intelligence that evolves beyond humanity after a romantic fling with a human (Her); and a woman transformed by a superdrug into a superhuman who transcends human limitations and ultimately corporeal existence itself (Lucy).

Directed by Rupert Sanders. Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Tawanda Manyimo, Yutaka Izumihara. Paramount.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value

0 / -3

Age Appropriateness


MPAA Rating


Caveat Spectator

Pervasive deadly sci-fi and action violence; torture; stylized nudity; limited crude language and cursing.

Ironically, her biggest role to date is one of the few superheroes in Disney’s Marvel universe, Black Widow, who is not more than human (though who knows; Iron Man 3 temporarily gave superpowers to Gwyneth Paltrow’s very ordinary Pepper Potts, and a future installment could do the same for the Black Widow).

In Ghost in the Shell — a Hollywood adaptation of a Japanese multimedia SF action franchise best known in the U.S. via a pair of well-regarded anime films — Johansson plays that penultimate transhumanist aspiration, a cyborg created by transplanting a human brain into an android body. Her living brain is her only real vulnerability; the transhumanist’s only fonder hope is to upload consciousness itself into a fully digital world, leaving behind the last vestiges of biological corporeality.

The story takes place in a dystopian future of variously cybernetically enhanced humans. A bit like Big Hero 6’s East-meets-West city of “San Fransokyo,” the sprawling urban setting is an immense mashup of Tokyo or Hong Kong by way of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles.

The Major’s living brain supplies her artificial body with intuition and passion, apparently still valuable commodities that can’t be replicated by A.I.

The global cast includes Juliette Binoche, Japanese superstar “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, Fijian Australian Lasarus Ratuere, Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, and London-born actress Danusia Samal, who is of Kurdish and Polish origin. And, of course, the controversially cast Johansson, whose portrayal of an iconic Japanese heroine has elicited charges of whitewashing.

Director Rupert Sanders demonstrated a visual flair in his debut film, Snow White and the Huntsman, and he confirms it here, not only in the decadent eye candy of production designer Jan Roelfs’ shiny-nightmarish neon-hologram illuminated city, but also in some of the more striking action sequences. Ghost in the Shell’s best and most colorful sequences look like nothing else in mainstream Hollywood action moviemaking, though these alternate with gritty, dingy sequences reminiscent of every other big-screen dystopia.

Action, Apocalypse Ouch, East Meets West, Science Fiction