Ghost in The Shell offers detailed visual effects and worldbuilding, but this live action adaptation is a watered down Hollywoodized version with cliched storytelling, lifeless characters, and run-of-the-mill action.
In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. [Paramount Pictures]
In its attempt to continue milking the foreign market, Hollywood is capitalizing on properties to catch the attention of viewers from Asia. So here we are, another classic masterpiece run through studio processing.
The results do look good. The landscape in this live action version of Ghost in The Shell benefit from today’s cutting edge visual effects. Gigantic holograms and neon signs dominate the skyline while a crowded Japanese city teeming with cyber-enhanced humans sprawl below. Imagine Tokyo existing in the same timeline as Los Angeles in Blade Runner, except you have boxy 80’s cars directed by pixelated arrow signs in the street. The detailing is also applied to the costume, set design and practical effects. The visuals is complemented with dark cinematography.
The cast is good enough acting-wise. Scarlett Johannsson plays a convincing robot. In a perfect world we would have Rinko Kikuchi but obviously the studio is more comfortable backing up a more well known actress with a more fitting accent for the American audience.
All of these elements makes this live version Ghost in The Shell serviceable enough as passing entertainment. But this adaptation is stripped off of the philosophical and existential themes that made its source material a masterpiece to create a mass marketed product.
Sanders functions as a director for hire here, copying recognizable moments from the animated movies while ticking the studio’s checklist – eye candy visuals, a bankable actress in a sexy suit, perfunctory action scenes, and a watered down narrative that can appeal to anyone 13 and up.
The narrative focuses on a generic corporate conspiracy plot tied to a problematic origins story. Without exploring the source material’s core themes of identity and humanity, this backstory becomes a convenient plot device to justify the casting of Scarlett Johannsson and a condescending fix to address the whitewashing accusations. The rest of the characters are caricature sketches of their original counterparts.
Practically speaking this is a Hollywood adaptation so you can’t expect depth. At the end of the day its a profit-driven venture that doesn’t care about articles, blog posts and online commenters arguing about its casting choices.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t even offer thrills beyond its expensive visuals. Its run-of-the-mill run and gun sequences with occasional slow motion scenes are so forgettable you’ll end up searching for the original movies or clips in YouTube.
Of course, the movie neatly wraps up with the predictable sellout ending. Essentially, this first installment is an introduction to Major and establishment of Scarlett Johannsson in the role. However, that also turned the whole movie into a generic birth of a hero story complete with a stereotypical warmongering villain. If you don’t mind that and have not watched any of the TV series or animated movies, then you’re in for a serviceable cyberpunk action movie.
Overall, Ghost in The Shell is a well rendered eye popping live action version, but its a ghost of a better film in a disposable glossy shell.
My Rating: 5/10
Alternative Poster by Evan Raditya