Hollywood has been trying to get a Ghost in the Shell adaptation off the ground for years. When the pieces finally came together with Scarlett Johansson in the lead and Snow White and the Huntsman’s Rupert Sanders behind the camera, I was cautiously optimistic. The end result isn’t without its flaws, but it’s nevertheless an action-packed and visually striking blockbuster that’s more engaging than a lot of the tentpoles we’ve had in recent years.
Johansson stars as Major, a ghost in the shell, someone who’s had their human brain transplanted into a machine’s body, a shell. She heads up an elite anti-terrorist team working for Section 9, overseen by Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). When an unknown entity emerges and starts killing people involved with Hanka Robotics, the organisation responsible for Major’s brain transplant, Major soon begins questioning who she really is.
Johansson gives a great performance as Major. She’s totally convincing both as a lethal part-human, part-machine weapon and as someone undergoing a massive identity crisis. Jamie Moss’ script does an excellent job of exploring that struggle with identity and what it means to be human that’s at the heart of the franchise.
Just as he did with Snow White, Sanders makes the original property look stunning on the big screen. Fantastic stunt choreography, flawless special effects, and slick direction make everything pop. The look of the city in the future, the weapons, the machines, the people – no detail is overlooked in terms of evolution, and it all adds up to a well-rounded world which is as relevant today as when the original manga was published.
Many people had a problem with Johansson’s casting, but I think they were mostly people who had no idea about the story and simply jumped at headlines without delving further. Major’s body is a fabricated one, and could be of any nationality. Johansson’s performance was all that mattered to me, and no one would have done it better.
Where that casting issue fell for me was with the supporting characters. Their names here and in the manga heavily imply that they’re Japanese, but most aren’t played by Japanese actors, which felt like a real missed opportunity. As did having Juliette Binoche as one of the main supporting characters, someone created for the film, who stuck out like a bit of a sore thumb. Having said that, Pilou Asbaek, who plays Batou, Major’s second in command, is excellent. He and Johansson share terrific chemistry, so there are definitely pros and cons.
The finale sadly is a real point of weakness, given the futuristic setting. There’s scope here to have an incredibly formidable foe, but it really lets itself down in that respect.
Where the film is great, it’s really great. Johansson and Asbaek give us fantastic entry points into this stunning world – one that definitely needs to be seen in HD. The franchise’s core themes are well woven into the script. And the score is absolutely superb from Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe – why it hasn’t been released at least digitally is a total mystery. But there are similarly various things that weigh it down, and it feels like more time should have been spent really making this something special. It’s good, and it’s an enjoyable watch. But it should have been better.
Ghost in the Shell is available to download early from all the usual Digital platforms today, July 24th.