Ghost in the Shell – Great Visuals Can’t Mask Story

Continuing with the trend of adapting big properties, here is Ghost in the Shell based on the popular anime of the same name. I’ve occasionally dabbled in anime but I have never seen Ghost in the Shell so I went into this with no preconceived notions. I was just curious to see how Scarlett Johansson would do.

Synopsis: In a future in which humanity and technology have begun to merge, a cybernetically enhanced policewoman hunts a mysterious terrorist who can hack into his victims’ minds and control their thoughts and memories. Her pursuit eventually leads her to discover the full truth about her traumatic past.  (Rovi)

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, and Juliette Binoche

Writers: Jamie Moss and William Wheeler

Director: Rupert Sanders

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 107mins

Trailer: 

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We all got a glimpse of it in the trailers but the first thing that stood out here were the visuals. The film features a massive, ambitious, living world depicted in great detail. Just as there was a lot going on in the world, there was a lot going on in the story. In a world where synthetic humans and human enhancements are commonplace, Major (Johansson), an enhanced woman with her brain (ghost) in a synthetic body (shell), is on the hunt for a mysterious terrorist named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who can hack into people’s minds.

The film offered a quick origin story for Major at the beginning but not getting the whole story was the point. The story may not be the most original but that was okay. The film felt more like two different films with Major, her partner Batou (Asbaek), and the rest of Section 9 scouring the city for Kuze and then Major learning the truth about herself, forcing her to search for answers in seeking out her past.

The first half shows us Major in action with her many enhancements. It was exciting to see her interact with the environment while invisible but it barely mattered as what was more noticeable was the choreography and how well shot the action sequences were. It was fun to watch them go about their investigation and exploring the ambitious and immersive film world while showing off its many intricacies.

Major thought she knew her past and her purpose in life but a sudden bout of glitches were beginning to prove otherwise. Her maker, Dr. Ouelet (Binoche), considered to be a miracle but the owner of the Hanka Robotics Corporation, a man named Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) considered her more as a weapon. In finding Kuze, we learn that he is lashing out at Hanka for having created him and he first presents her the notion that what she thought she knew may not necessarily be the truth. He informed her that she was not the first of her kind, leading her to then explore how she really came to be and in that, found out the truth about her past (I cannot speak to its accuracy).

The film has received some negative publicity due to the whitewashing of its main character and other characters (as far as I my knowledge of it goes) and it definitely showed here. Johansson is okay but the film boasted a surprisingly low amount of Japanese actors or much Japanese anything. It became particularly odd when the white characters of Section 9 can only speak English to their leader, a man named Armaki (Takeshi Kitano), who only speaks Japanese.

Those expecting anything profound may be disappointed which is probably a good thing. The film tried to say so much but never really succeeded at any of it. It briefly touched issues such as: the female body with Major parading herself around in a skin-tight suit and the idea of control since Major’s brain belonged to her but her body technically didn’t, also touching on the idea of consent when Ouelet and others wanted to probe into her brain and her memories.

While Major was an interesting character but the other characters were kind of irrelevant based on their lack of development and how the pretty much disappeared during the second half when it focused on Major’s search for truth. She and Batou were good together but we didn’t get enough of them. Kuze was a decent villain but he was just another underdeveloped character. He and Major had a backstory but because the film tried to fit so much convoluted story it didn’t quite connect.

The acting here was decent across the board with Johansson being the best of the bunch. She was likable and captivating to watch. Just like everybody else, her performance was rather subdued (I don’t know if they’re supposed to be) but she was still engaging. She handled herself admirably in the many action sequences but with a film like this, it is sometimes hard to know what is real and what isn’t. The acting wouldn’t have been better with better dialog as a fair amount was on the cheesy side which didn’t help the subdued acting.

Overall, this was a good, well shot sci-fi action film with great visuals and decent performances but relied too much on its visuals rather than telling a cohesive story, perhaps falling victim the usual franchise establishing pitfalls.

Score: 7.5/10

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