‘Ghost In The Shell’: What Went Wrong For Scarlett Johansson? [Opinion]

As the box office predictions seem to be demonstrating for Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell, this film is disappointing filmgoers and critics alike. In its first weekend opening, Box Office Mojo reports the film has made $59 million worldwide on a $110 million budget, as of Sunday. When taking into account the cut that the theaters take and the cost of marketing, this film will probably make a profit but not much more.

It’s not that Johansson’s latest movie is terrible; it’s just not as good as it should have been. The original material that it’s based on – including Masamune Shirow’s manga series and the astounding animated film – deserved a much better retelling than this. So what went wrong?

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While it’s not clear that the controversy surrounding the casting of a white actress – Scarlett Johansson – in what many people thought should have been an Asian role had a major impact on the box office numbers, but it certainly didn’t help. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, a number of organizations have protested against the decision to cast Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, including the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA):

“Though defenders of the casting claimed that both the original 1989 manga and 1995 animated Japanese film were vague about Major Motoko Kusanagi’s original ethnic identity before her brain was placed into the body of a cyborg, this film verifies she was Japanese; her real name, in fact, was Motoko Kusanagi (her cyborg identity, implanted with false memories, was Major Mira Killian).”

Johansson herself defended taking on the role, suggesting that the ethnic identity of the cyborg in question wasn’t entirely clear – perhaps because she was a cyborg and not really a human being anymore. Johansson gave her thoughts on the controversy during a recent interview.

“I think this character is living a very unique experience, in that she is a human brain in an entirely machinate body. She’s essentially identity-less. I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously. Hopefully, any question that comes up of my casting will be answered by audiences when they see the film.”

But even putting aside the question of whitewashing, there are major problems with the film itself that have nothing to do with casting or race. And these issues are certainly not going to help Ghost in the Shell when it comes to word-of-mouth and future box office numbers.

Normally, it might be expected that Scarlett Johansson’s star power would by itself save this movie from box office disaster. After all, she is one of the most successful – and well paid – actresses working today. But star power doesn’t seem to be enough this time.

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For one thing, even though the world created by the filmmakers in Ghost in the Shell was interesting and visually impressive, in a few places the special effects – particularly the CGI effects – were a bit clunkier than one would expect for a film coming out in 2017. Of course, the film had a budget of $110 million – which is considered relatively low by the standards of epic blockbusters these days – so maybe this is the best they could do for that price.

But the real problem with Ghost in the Shell lies in the fact that there is no depth to the characters at all. In most movies that are worth their salt, you get character motivation and character development over the course of the film. You don’t really have that in Ghost in the Shell. The richness and interest you might have felt for the characters inhabiting this world in the original material this movie was based on is totally missing in the 2017 live-action version.

[Featured Image by Dreamworks]