Let’s get one thing straight. I have not seen any of the Ghost in the Shell anime series or films. I was unaware of the story and its characters before watching this 2017 live-action adaptation. This means that I had no source materials to refer to and watched this film purely as a science fiction piece of work.
With that being said, I enjoyed this film for what it was; and what that was is a CGI spectacle. Obviously, the visuals are what stands out in comparison to the story and character development. The setting was very rich, with sharp details of neon layering the dark and gritty tech-heavy world. Watching it in 3D was a treat as I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a split second. It was engaging and made me pay attention to what was happening in front of me.
I thought the story was pretty good until I realized it brought nothing new to the world of cyberpunk. A robot that deals with a lost sense of belonging in a technological, but very human society has been seen in many past works such as the critically acclaimed Ex Machina. The story did, however, had the potential to dive into more topics involving isolation and finding one’s purpose but due to the short duration of the film, Ghost in the Shell felt unfinished on the story it tried to tell.
And because of how short the movie is, it put all of its focus on character development on Major Mira Killian (played by my wife, Scarlett Johansson). I thought Johansson did a fine job playing the no-nonsense, sexy bad-ass but the heroine suffers by being surrounded by the other characters presented in this film. Major is already a serious, emotionally conflicted protagonist but by adding lifeless supporting characters by her side, it becomes an underwhelming depressing tale. I was starting to get into both Hideo Kuze (played by Michael Pitt) and Batou (played by Pilou Asbaek) but the lack of onscreen time has been a factor to their one-dimensional portrayals.
Now to talk about the elephant in the room. To start things off, I was initially okay with Scarlett Johansson playing Major as I believe she embodies the perfect science fiction action star to tackle a fearless female character. If Mamoru Oshii (director of the original movies) felt that Johansson met the requirements of Major, then who are we to not give her a chance? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to cast an Asian actress? Yes. But I do believe that if it had to go “Hollywood”, then Scarlett Johansson was a perfect choice. The one thing I do have a problem with is that if you are going to change an element to the story, then at least address it. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got with Major. I won’t spoil anything in this review but the ending’s reveal was basically a slap in the face to all the Ghost in the Shell fans.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell was very cool to watch. The visuals were stunning and the action was fun. All I wanted was a longer movie to bring out some more character development and an enhanced plot. But what the movie ended up being was another adaptation that failed to fix its initial mistakes of typical Hollywood controversy. Hopefully, Rupert Sanders can learn from this attempt on what not to do when remaking one of the most successful anime series’ to date.