Controversy surrounded Ghost In The Shell’s casting of Scarlett Johansson since the moment she was first announced as cyborg hero The Major, a character that has generally been identified as Japanese. However, that seems to be the least of its problems. While Mamoru Oshii’s original Japanese anime was revolutionary and inspired films like The Matrix, Ex Machina and I, Robot, the live-adaption of Ghost In The Shell fails to measure up. Although it awes with breathtaking futuristic visuals, the film’s plot and its characters feel a little outdated and flat.
While the anime and the manga, which captivated the likes of James Cameron, looked forward to a future where humans, cyborgs and machines roam Japan, Rupert Sanders’ remake seems to be looking in the wrong direction. Instead, it finds inspiration from the films inspired by the anime – like RoboCop and The Matrix. From the opening moments of Ghost In The Shell, we’re unwillingly drawing comparisons to Trinity and other recent sci-fi action stars. The truth is that the film falls victim to many of the tried and test Hollywood tropes it started. Could it be that the top-dollar adaptation arrived a little too late?
The plot will sound familiar to anyone who has seen a science-fiction film in the last ten years. Like the anime, the live-adaptation is set in the cyberpunked near future where Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the world’s first cyborg soldier. After a terrible accident, her brain (and her soul/ghost) is transferred into a cyber-enhanced machine (hence, the ghost in the shell) and she is trained to take on the world’s most dangerous criminals, in this case, terrorists who hack human minds. As she takes on a new threat, she learns that the people responsible for her creation have lied to her. With this new information, she hopes to recover her past.
At its core, Ghost in the Shell is all about what makes a person human and not a machine. It’s an interesting idea, but it isn’t fully explored here. The resolute Johansson does her utmost to get into her Siri-type character (moving and talking like a cyborg), but there is only so much you can do with a role that doesn’t require emotional output. For the most part, she is cold and doesn’t provoke any feelings from the viewer. That said, Major really shines during the action pieces. The westernised reimagining comes alive when she gallops up walls or plummets down rooftops.
As a former commercials director, Rupert Sanders has an amazing eye for striking imagery. Every corner of the frame is painted with jaw-dropping visuals that truly transfer you into the future. With its use of CGI to create a world with holograms and coming tech, it’s honestly one of the most stunning films of this year so far. That said, the rest of the film feels lacking. It’s missing the spirit of the original ie. it’s the shell without the ghost.
The late embargo on reviews for the film is a sure sign of the lack of faith the studio has in Ghost In The Shell. Although it’s not impossible to leave the cinema totally smitten with the film, most of it is rather forgettable.