A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ghost in the Shell is a martial-arts action film based on a popular Japanese manga franchise. Like the anime version, the live-action movie features a high body count, though the violence is portrayed in a stylized, relatively blood-free way. Expect several intense martial-arts battles, close hand-to-hand combat, massive technological weapons, and shoot-outs that leave characters injured, dismembered, and/or dead. Language isn't frequent, but you'll hear occasional use of "s--t," "ass," etc. Sex is limited to longing looks, a shot of cyborg/A.I. prostitutes, and one scene in which Mira stares at and touches a human woman's face, since she no longer feels a "real" connection to her synthetic body. The movie poses several questions about humanity, purpose, and trust. And, given that it's been criticized for the casting of a non-Asian actress (Scarlett Johansson) in the role of a well-known Japanese character, it may also make audiences think about whether diverse characters should be more authentically represented in films.
What's the story?
Based on a popular Japanese anime franchise, GHOST IN THE SHELL tells the story of Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), who wakes up after an accident to find Hanka Corporation scientist Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) explaining that while Mira's body couldn't survive what happened to her, her brain was transplanted into a completely synthetic body. She's now the first and only one of her kind -- a human "ghost" (or soul) in an artificial body who can remember nothing of her previous life. Major isn't simply allowed to live as a civilian. She's the top soldier in the government's crime task force, a unit that goes on dangerous missions. After a vicious hacker starts targeting and killing high-level Hanka staffers, Major discovers that she may have more in common with the bloodthirsty saboteur than she imagined.
Is it any good?
This much-anticipated -- and maligned -- adaptation of the beloved cyberpunk manga is visually arresting and pulse-quickening, but it's an action film that focuses much more on style than substance. The source material is a Japanese comic with an identifiably Japanese protagonist -- Major Motoko Kusanagi, the MVP of Section 9, a cybercrime enforcement squad. But because Johansson is obviously not Asian, the narrative must concoct a (fairly believable) story to explain the disconnect. The uproar over the movie's perceived whitewashing of an established character isn't likely to abate because of that explanation, but the manga creator himself had no objections, saying the character's appearance doesn't matter because it's not her "original" self -- one of the main themes of the story. And Johansson does play the part -- a sentient weapon who doesn't know whether she's real or just an expensive puppet on a string -- well.
If the casting controversy is a dealbreaker, this isn't the movie for you. But audiences who are unfamiliar with the manga and unperturbed by the outcry will probably buy into the storyline. Visually, there's a lot to admire: memorable production design, the eerie precision of geisha bots, a Mad Max-meets-Blade Runner aesthetic. The supporting actors are capable, although Michael Pitt's over-the-top villain is a love-him-or-hate-him proposition, much like Jared Leto's Joker. The real standout is Danish actor Pilou Asbaek (best known in the U.S. as Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) as Batou, Major's fellow Section 9 agent and the closest thing she has to a friend. His warmth and occasional humor are much needed opposite Major's intensity. For a moderately diverting entry in the genre of futuristic sci-fi action thrillers, Ghost in the Shell is surprisingly traditional. The twists are predictable, and the revelations obvious from the earliest of Major's interactions with Dr. Ouelet. But there's plenty of Johansson kicking and fighting and being fierce, and that's never a bad thing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Ghost in the Shell. Do you think it's necessary to the story? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?
How does this movie compare to other comics-based films? Which are some of your favorites, and why?
Discuss the "whitewashing" controversy regarding Johansson playing what was originally an identifiably Japanese character. Do you think filmmakers have a responsibility to cast someone culturally authentic to a role?
If you're familiar with the anime version of the story, which do you like better? Why? What do they have in common? How are they different?
- In theaters: March 31, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: July 25, 2017
- Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Wincott, Juliette Binoche
- Director: Rupert Sanders
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images
For kids who love sci-fi and anime
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.