More and more as of late film ideas are being mined from other sources, as opposed to original concepts. So far in 2017 there has already been a few remakes and reboots, the newest of which is the live action adaptation of Ghost In The Shell. The film is based on the anime, and manga of the same name, and attempts to craft its own version of the stories presented before, while remaining faithful to the source material. Now before getting into the review itself full disclosure, I have not seen the original film, nor have I read the manga, so I went at this as I would most films, with a clean slate.
Ghost In The Shell tells the story of the Major, played in the film by Scarlett Johansson, who in a world full of tech enhancements, is the first human brain implanted in a full cybernetic body. The setup is pretty intriguing, and the world that Major inhabits is a fully fleshed out retro futuristic city, complete with giants holograms, and lots and lots of neon. The imagery of the film is one of its best parts, as the costumes, and the art design depict a city rife with technology, and an 80’s vibe. The opening sequence of the Major being made is one of the coolest things in the film, and the fact that it is the first thing you see really draws you into the world. Watching the story unfold was made much better by virtue of the fact that what was being shown was great to look at, and gave the film a unique presentation, especially in 3D, as the filmmakers utilized the technology better than most films in recent years.
The specific aesthetic that was used, enhances what is otherwise a fairly basic story, as the film follows a much used sci-fi plot of the main character finding out that there is more to the world than they believed. While the overarching story is familiar, the film has enough intrigue that is isn’t boring, and still quite fun and enjoyable. There are a few leaps in logic, though they are easy enough to overlook, so the film never gets bogged down by any confusion as to what is happening. There are also many times where it circumvents tropes, so it is also not overly predictable, which is good since many of the trailers give away a lot of the story. At no point is this a thrill ride, and there are not enough twist and turns to make for anything entirely memorable, but the film is enjoyable enough to carry through the initial viewing.
With the visuals and imagery clearly the focus of the film, it is really no surprise that this film doesn’t stand out in the acting department. Johansson is doing her best impression of a robot, though this approach leaves a lot to be desired. Her cadence is devoid of emotion, and carries a similar cadence regardless of the situation. While having the character act like a robot makes some sense, given that she has a robot body, the fact that she has a human brain should have removed the need for this, so it feels like a weird choice. Her performance suffers as a result going down this road with the character, and it would be interesting to see how the film would have played out if the character was more relatable. The story doesn’t really lend itself to caring too much about the Major, as the story focuses more on catching the terrorist villain, than it does establishing a worthwhile lead. There are moments between Johansson and Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Ouelet, that show the doctor caring for her, but there isn’t enough of it where that connection transfers to the audience. This is especially troubling since Major is the only character given any of the screen time, as all of the side characters are relegated to very minor roles, and none of them are memorable. Her sidekick and partner Batou, played by Pilou Asbæk, is the closest we get to a fully formed character, though he simply is characterized as somebody addicted to augmentation, and doesn’t really get more than that. For partners, there are no scenes that stand out that showcase any level of care or trust for one another, so anytime the other is in peril, there is no sense that either cares what happens to the other, which is off-putting. Michael Pitt’s villain terrorist is quite good however, in the limited screen time he is given, though as the film unfolds the character becomes less interesting, despite Pitt’s portrayal still being good.
Ghost In The Shell has its share of issues, stemming mostly from story and character choices that feel like huge missteps. However the films excellent imagery, effects, and world are enough to save it from being something that might have been much worse. For every moment that doesn’t work, there are ones that do, and the more stunning elements of the film will be what many take away that see it, but with a basic story, and lackluster acting, there isn’t enough to truly recommend Ghost In The Shell unless you know that you are in for a mostly empty visual experience, which is perfectly fine in most cases, but will have a tough time standing out in a season filled with similar films.