Robots are humans. There. Said it.
In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a human 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 her life was stolen instead of saved. Now, she will stop at nothing to recover her past while punishing those who did this to her. And to make matters worst, she now starts to realize that she may have a lot more human in her than she ever thought was possible and it gets her thinking: “What’s the real point about life?” Is it to just be used to stop violent-criminals? Or, is it to enjoy yourself every once and awhile?
The original animated-flick from which Ghost in the Shell is adapted from is, I must say, a bit overrated. Sure, it helped inspire a crap-ton of cyberpunk and techno-thrillers that would hit the air-waves in the next decade or so, but story-wise, it’s pretty generic material. The question of whether or not A.I. can be trusted, are more human than human, or at the very least, deserve to be treated with respect, aren’t necessarily ground-breaking ideas and it’s why the animated-flick feels as if it’s treading familiar waters. It’s visuals are great and clearly time and effort was put into them, but aside from them, that’s about it.
And yes, I can say almost the same thing for the live-action adaptation.
Although, that said, the visuals are downright amazing. Director Rupert Sanders has an eye for detail and in this world where everything and anything seems to get easily hacked, he needs it. Colors, visuals, special-effects, CGI, and all sorts of wacky shapes and sizes literally pop-off the screen and it’s quite a treasure to behold; the world itself is already creepy and weird, but Sanders doesn’t forget to add a little bit of juicy-development to why it’s so creepy and makes you feel like a prisoner in it. In a way, it feels a lot more like the remake of Total Recall, than Blade Runner, but there’s still some actual thought going into the production-design this time around and it helps Ghost in the Shell not feel like a total cash-grab.
It is just a shame, however, that the rest of the movie is pretty conventional and doesn’t always measure up to what the visuals are doing/saying. For instance, Max Landis, who isn’t always well-loved, seems to appreciate the material he’s adapting so much, that he literally never changes a single thing. Though it’s about ten minutes or so longer than the original, this Ghost in the Shell features the same story, same twists, same turns, and hell, even the same scenes. If you’re an absolute and undying fan of the original, there may be a real treat in seeing those hand-drawn animated scenes out on paper, but if you’re like me and just wanted something a little more, yeah, it can feel a bit disappointing.
Maybe a better screenwriter would have helped with Sanders vision a tad more?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, the ensemble assembled is at least interesting, even if nothing is entirely done with them. Scarlett Johansson takes on a very dull and one-note role as Major, yet, seems to have some fun in it by just running around, shooting people, and being a general bad-ass, despite being barely over 5’1″. Pilou Asbaek shows up as one of her fellow for-hire assassins and is interesting to watch, even if his character is pretty conventional; Juliette Binoche brings some levity to a whole ton of exposition as Major’s doctor/confidante/admirer; and in what seems like his first English-language role in forever (even though he doesn’t speak it here), Takeshi Kitano steals the show as Major’s boss, an age old bad-ass who speaks in his native-language, yet, everyone understands and speaks back to. It’s a bit of a silly joke in a world that seems way too real and serious, and it’s why it’s great to see such an living legend like Kitano show up in something like this, bring some panache, bring some gravitas, and oh yeah, bring a little bit of fun.
Movies like this need more of that.
Consensus: Despite the dazzling and sometimes all-too-impressive set-design, Ghost in the Shell is a major blockbuster cash-grab at material that was already conventional in the first place and doesn’t really get much else to do here, except cover the same ground.
6 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Paramount Pictures